cover image Burst


Mary Otis. Zibby, $26.99 (274p) ISBN 979-8-9852828-2-5

Otis chronicles a mother’s and daughter’s pursuits of elusive love in her perceptive debut novel (after the collection Yes, Yes, Cherries). In a Cape Cod trailer park in 1979, single mother Charlotte uses her sex appeal and strong personality to keep herself and her 11-year-old daughter, Viva, afloat. Too often, however, Charlotte’s alcoholism results in the two having to pick up stakes, keeping them on the move from generous relatives to besotted boyfriends throughout Viva’s youth. At a free day camp, Viva discovers a love of dance, which Charlotte helps nurture. It’s a bittersweet development, as Charlotte, a onetime aspiring artist, is reminded of her squandered potential (“What kind of mother envied her own daughter’s joy?”). As an adult 15 years later, Viva must contend with her own fractured dreams—and with the fear of turning into the worst version of her mother. Otis captures the colorful chaos of Viva’s early years, acknowledging the damage but also the moments of joy. In lyrical language that expresses both Viva’s and Charlotte’s perspectives, Otis portrays a mother and daughter caught in a tense pas de deux, perpetually pushing one another away before returning to each other. This author continues to impress. (Apr.)