Monday, February 8, 2016

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

It took reading this whole book, putting it down for a week, and then picking it back up today to write this review for it to occur to me that every time I look at the cover I get a certain Alanis Morissette tune in my head, Uninvited.  Ah, I am so self-aware.  The moral of the story is that I think I have to review this book immediately or face the possibility of never getting this song out of my head despite it having nothing much to do with the book other than the title in common.

The Uninvited starts off with a bang when twenty-five year old Ivy Rowan, who has always seen ghosts when someone close to her is about to die, finally gives up her reclusive life on her family's farm and moves into the town of Buchanan.  On that night in 1918 as World War I rages, fueled by booze, paranoia, and grief Ivy's father and younger brother beat a German furniture store owner to death.  Finally realizing that there's nothing she can do to protect her family from her volatile father, Ivy determines finally to leave home to start a new life. 

In a chain of events that is nothing if not surreal, newly liberated Ivy takes a room with the war widow of the most popular guy in her high school class, assists two young women desperately if inexpertly driving an ambulance around the poorer side of town where influenza victims are dying by the dozen, and is lured by jazz music to a dance at the Masonic Lodge - a dance that seems to know no race or prejudice.  In the meantime, she is riddled with guilt over her father and brother's dreadful deed and comes to know and love the surviving brother of the man they killed.  As Ivy drifts through her new life with a sleepless fanaticism, making new friends, connecting with old ones, and trying her best to atone for her family's failings, she begins to see the ghosts of the people she knows to be dead and fears the worst for her mother and her newfound lover.  It's not long until Ivy's journey of self-discovery takes an unexpected turn, and everything she knows about herself and her new life is called into question.

It took a little while for me to settle into the reading of The Uninvited.  Being dropped into a life on the cusp of change and one that is changing so radically is hard to catch up with.  Ivy's new life is rendered in such a way that it seems almost dreamlike, with chance encounters and forbidden loves that spin her in a radically different direction than what she has ever known.  With an odd combination of jazz music, World War I generated paranoia, and the plague of influenza, Winters makes a vivid setting of downtown Buchanan.  The fear and frenzy there is palpable and contributes to the unsettled feeling of the narrative.

Ivy herself is lovable character, a young woman who waited too long to discover herself.  I was both amazed and appalled by the journey her guilt led her on.  Winters does a perfect job of rendering Ivy's new life in a way that is satisfying but feels, deliberately, just the slightest bit off so that when the unexpected occurs, all the pieces are ready to fall into place.   

I'll be honest, I was expecting more ghosts and less coming of age, but I still liked what this book delivered, which is a great historical coming of age story with a twist that makes it hard to put down.  In The Uninvited, Cat Winters has written a ghost story that is less about death and more about learning to live.

(Thanks to the publisher for providing my copy in exchange for review consideration.)