Again and Again
Jonathan Evison. Dutton, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-18415-8
Evison (Lawn Boy) crafts a touching fantastical tale of a lonely elderly man’s past reincarnations. Eugene Miles, 105, lives in a California elder care facility, where he hopes to die for good, fearing he’ll lead yet another life of thwarted love if he’s born again. As a poor thief named Euric in Moorish Spain, he fell in love with a woman named Gaya, who saved his life after he was caught stealing, but they were separated under dramatic and tragic circumstances that Evison gradually doles out. First, though, the reader learns of Eugene’s other lives, including a turn as Oscar Wilde’s cat, when he believed Wilde was Gaya reincarnated. Each time the protagonist is reunited with a new version of Gaya, he ends up alone, such as when Wilde is imprisoned for indecency. As Eugene, he’s decided to close himself off from others. One day, however, Eugene meets a new nursing assistant named Angel, a young man who quickly disarms Eugene’s rough demeanor. Every day afterward, he tells Angel about his past lives under the gaze of Wayne, the residence’s mental health professional, who’s convinced Eugene’s stories are delusions. Though the ending feels unresolved, Evison evokes genuine emotions from the connection between cheery Angel and sour Eugene, and he keeps readers wondering whether Eugene is a misunderstood hero or an unreliable narrator. This touches the heart. Agent: Mollie Glick, Creative Artists Agency. (Nov.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review misgendered the character Angel and incorrectly described his job.
Reviewed on: 08/16/2023