Ellie Beals employs a clever storytelling method in EMERGENCE that underscores the unusual relationship between the two narrators: 13-year old Xavier’s sections are written in first-person, while Cass’s–a middle-aged married woman–are in third. Hearing Xavier’s direct thoughts and impressions gives him an inherently observational tone, perfect for his self-identified “Just Watching” of Cass, while the remoteness of the third-person gives the characters in Cass’s life a certain amount of necessary distance from the reader. This allows for a slow-burning uneasiness as we initially question and almost fear Xavier’s intentions– is he really just an observer or is he going to become a hunter?
The parallels between the backdrop of the deep woods and nature of surrounding Cass’ cabin in Petit Lac Rouge in Québec, Canada, is beautiful–but with a constant undercurrent of danger, and the people that circle in and out of Cass’s life are unmistakable, as is the metaphor of dog training; some people have “good hands”, some do not, and those who do not are to be avoided at all costs lest they ruin the animal. Cass is much fonder of the couple’s three dogs–Chuff, Zeke, and the mischievous Katrinka–than she is of people, and her trust in her canine companions serves her well, both in the competition ring and in life. The slow shift of Xavier from observer/voyeur to friend to protector coincides with the subtle shift of Cass’s loss of innocence and faith in her beloved hideaway–the very things that allow her to be free and wander the back bush in joyful abandon also put her in far greater danger than the menace of the city life she desires to escape. Xavier, on the other hand, raised in the woods and trained by his “anarchist” father, instinctually senses every possible pitfall and trap, but grows in his capacity to trust. The juxtaposition of their impressions of vulnerability and safety makes for a deliciously disquieting ride through the somewhat morally and ethically confusing landscape of this story. There are a few standouts amongst the minor characters–the gorgeous and frustrating Lori, the “alpha male” Mike–but without question, it is the odd relationship between Cass and Xavier that propels us through this unique thriller. That, and the adorable canines, of course.
A slow-burn thriller, EMERGENCE by Ellie Beals interlaces the stories of 13-year Xavier, a young naturalist raised in the remote woods of Western Quebec and the subject of his observations, a middle-aged woman named Cass, her three dogs, and an assortment of friends and foes–the latter of which may be a threat to her life.
~Shari Simpson for IndieReader