cover image The Center of Everything

The Center of Everything

Jamie Harrison. Counterpoint, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-6400-9234-1

An undercurrent of tragedy runs through Harrison’s brilliant latest (after The Widow Nash), about the effects of a brain injury on a 42-year-old Montana woman. Three months after a bicycle accident, Polly Schuster suffers from migraines and short-term memory loss, and has trouble concentrating on work at her husband’s restaurant. After family friend Ariel goes missing during a Yellowstone River kayak trip, Polly tells her mother, Jane, she remembers seeing four dead bodies by the time she was nine. Jane insists these are just “photographs [she’s] turned into memories” after her accident, and gradually Polly begins to grasp why Jane is trying to mislead her. As Polly grows suspicious about Ariel’s disappearance, her world cracks open with revelations about the truth behind her family’s tragic past. A series of chapters set in 1968 reveal the sources of Polly’s memories, covering her childhood spent in Long Island living with her renowned archaeologist great-grandfather who moved east decades earlier, after Jane’s mother died in an accident on the Yellowstone River, and an incident involving a suicidal private plane crash. Against the backdrop of Polly’s family history and the author’s exploration of the vagaries of the human mind, Harrison plumbs complex family relationships and sheds insight on the power of memories and how they shape her characters. Harrison shines with passages of vivid imagery as Polly gains an added dimension of perception from looking at art and photographs. Readers will find themselves wishing this won’t end. (Jan.)