Verdict: Although at times overwritten, Janice Coy’s novel NORTH OF EDEN sensitively and heartbreakingly depicts lives impacted by dementia, exploring the moments we struggle to remember, and those we can’t forget.
In Janice Coy’s NORTH OF EDEN, life seems to be going according to the well-laid plan of 33-year-old Ruby, who’s newly married and thriving in her career as a freelance journalist. But a painful revelation quickly dismantles the fairytale, forcing Ruby to reconcile her dogged pursuit of truth with the heartache truth sometimes causes.
Meanwhile, Ruby’s grandmother Evelyn copes with her husband’s dementia diagnosis and their move to a senior living facility, and Lawrence, another resident, puzzles over the details of what is apparently his newest mission with the CIA. These characters, too, have complex relationships with fact and fiction: Evelyn quietly attempts to extricate herself from a thorny truth she’s spent years concealing; for Lawrence, the truth is often tantalizingly just out of reach. NORTH OF EDEN touchingly depicts the way truths and memories ensnare some and elude others.
Fittingly, Coy structures her novel as a series of concentric flashbacks, memories nesting like matryoshka dolls, the plot flitting from one layer of time to the next. The overall effect is suitably dizzying, but occasionally these ceaseless backward glances and an overabundance of detail stall the story’s forward momentum. It takes five pages to haltingly accompany Ruby down the aisle at her wedding, so weighed down is every step with the backstories of parents, grandparents, and Ruby’s relationships with them. Mirroring Ruby, the reader becomes impatient to get to the groom and get on with the story.
Coy’s interweaving of plotlines is well-done, and her novel well-plotted, but the glut of mystery and drama—multiple deaths, a fake death, accidents, abuses—dilutes the suspense and fragments the reader’s attention. What keeps the reader engaged is Coy’s heartbreaking depiction of dementia. As the disease “slowly erases” Evelyn’s husband, we come to understand how Evelyn can view his loss of memory as a gift. CIA agent Lawrence, his memory “like Swiss cheese, full of inexplicable, odd-shaped holes,” enters the novel as Coy’s most fantastical and out-of-place character, but ends up her most devastatingly real one. The elaborate plot of NORTH OF EDEN reinforces the confusion of the sufferers and their loved ones, who all feel the need to play a part, but don’t always know their lines. As Coy’s characters age, the line between truth and fiction blurs, and memory loss forces them to live in the present moment—often the only moment available to them.
~Amanda Penn for IndieReader