What I Had Before I Had You

Sarah Cornwell, Author
Sarah Cornwell. Harper, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-223784-2
Reviewed on: 10/14/2013
Release date: 01/01/2014
Compact Disc - 978-1-4829-9621-0
Compact Disc - 978-1-4829-9622-7
Book - 978-0-06-233753-5
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-06-223786-6
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-06-223785-9
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The “you” in the title of this psychological mystery debut refers to children, not partners. In Olivia Reed’s case, what her mother Myla had before she had her were stillborn twins, infant ghosts she’s told will follow her through life. But ghosts take different forms as the novel unfolds: are they spirits of dead children, as professional “psychic” Myla insists? Or are they the teenage girls that Olivia begins to “see” when she is 15, believing herself the inheritor of her mother’s gift? Are they dead souls come of age, her living sisters, or mad hallucinations? The answers shift as the narrative switches back and forth between the summer of 1987, when Olivia was an adolescent, and the present, when she’s traveling with her two children, Daniel and Carrie, after her divorce and revisits her hometown of Ocean Vista, N.J. In this haunted place, “the locus of [her] guilt,” she loses nine-year-old Daniel, who is bipolar, on the beach. His disappearance drives the narrative forward, but what’s more captivating is Olivia’s relationship with her beautiful, unbalanced mother and its parallels with her relationship with Carrie, as well as Olivia’s ruminations on the meanings of mental illness. “What I had before I had you” are hidden pasts, leaving indelible traces. Depth of insight, dreamy prose, and an engrossing storyline mark this wonderful debut. (Jan.)
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