cover image Paradise Close

Paradise Close

Lisa Russ Spaar. Persea, $25.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-89255-551-2

The lush if flawed debut novel from poet Spaar (Orexia) spans the 1950s through the early Trump era with a dual narrative about lost love. In 1971, orphan Marlise Schade, 14, is released from pricey Philadelphia psychiatric hospital The Institute when her trust fund money runs out. Chapters alternate between Marlise’s challenges of living on her own in an ancestral house as she loses interest in eating, and her time in The Institute, where she and the bubbly but suicidal Silas are inseparable. Spaar then goes back to the 1950s, where Marlise’s mother, Beatrice, has an affair with an older German man. The second half follows professor and poet Trey “Tee” Handel in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley at the turn of the 21st century and his passionate but doomed romance with Emma Miles, an art professor and artist. Spaar then moves to 2017, picking up with Marlise visiting a museum retrospective of Silas’s work and elucidating the connection between the seemingly disparate characters. Spaar offers plenty of lyrical descriptions (“Marlise felt safe inside the thick cabled sweater [Silas had] given her, saturated with the smell of him, like the wet wool of a sheep-studded vista in a castle tale”), but there’s a dissonance between the novel’s two halves that’s never resolved. It’s nicely written, but it doesn’t quite hang together. (May)