cover image Trutor and the Balloonist

Trutor and the Balloonist

Debbie Lee Wesselmann. MacAdam/Cage Publishing, $22.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-1-878448-74-3

Wesselmann's first novel defies genre definition. Though the theme is domestic violence, the narrative itself is imbued with charm, and the skeletons in a family closet are clothed in a disarming array of riddles and eccentric characters. Michelle Trutor, a recent college grad entangled in a relationship with an abusive philosophy professor, flees his blows and seeks refuge in the New Hampshire home of elderly Arthur Wharton (called the ""Balloonist"" because he wears goggle-like glasses), a fellow student of philosophy. The Balloonist and his twin brother were raised by a strange paradox of a woman, Caroline Wharton, their older sister and mother figure. A brilliant professor who became a vastly successful businesswoman, Caroline was ruthlessly cruel and physically abusive, and the twins grew up wounded and confused. Moreover, the bizarre will she left when she committed suicide was designed to torture them further, and under its provisions they are virtual prisoners in their Victorian manse. Now in their twilight years, they want someone to make sense of it all: they retain the dislocated Trutor to research and write Caroline's biography. It's therapy for Trutor, and she warms to the subject and to the quirky personalities she meets in the bleak little New Hampshire town. One soon gets the impression that Trutor, like Alice, has fallen down the rabbit hole. But too many oblique riddles and a plethora of clues slow the narrative pace. Wesselmann's prose is clear and graceful, and the narrative is shot through with isolated passages of lyrical beauty. Yet one gets the sense that she couldn't decide on the appropriate tone for this essentially gothic story and the serious issues it suggests but falls short of fully exploring.(May)