The jungle can do tricky things to the Western mind that lacks spiritual protection.
Julia Greer’s life has crumbled, formerly living in an enormous Victorian in Palto Alto with her now ex-husband Ethan and their daughter Evie, she is now trapped in a bleak apartment off the freeway longing for her child, whom Ethan has fully custody of. Money is power, and Ethan has it all, why did she sign the prenuptial agreement? Why did she ever give up her work as an investigative journalist to be the sort of wife that reflected beautifully on the very man who has taken everything she loved from her? Is he really the great cold manipulator she tells us?
Then comes a letter from her estranged and very wealthy great-aunt , Dr. Lydia Greer. Julia’s memories aren’t fond ones of the old woman, whom surely must be ancient now. Too young at their last meeting, she hasn’t spent much time ruminating over why her mother left so abruptly, ending the visit. Certainly there hasn’t been any communication from her great aunt since, but if she’s learned anything lately, its that money is the only chance she has to tackle her mounting debts, and more importantly, have a chance at getting her daughter back. Money matters, her Aunt is asking her to tea, what could it hurt? This may well be the means to hire a good lawyer to help set things right for she and Evie.
What Julia learns is that her Aunt will give her a lot of money to travel to a remote island, her task simply to smuggle samples of a mysterious flower that her sister Irene had written about decades ago before her suspicious death. The leader of the Church of Eternal Light, according to her aunt, must be hiding not just the real reason for her sister’s demise, but the true properties of the plant. It is risky, but she will have tools to communicate, unlike the others that go for escape from the modern world. Lydia has the means to help her get Evie back. What choice does Julia have? Others would agree to more for far less, and she is desperate!
1939 Irene Greer has set up camp in Kapu and is forging ahead collecting specimens for her sister back home, while tolerating the occasional visits from the Reverend. She is nursing her wounds, after the horrible touch of tragedy. As time stretches, her ‘ignorant foreign ways’ wears off, and she befriends a young orphan Agnes, who shares her knowledge of Kapu with Irene. Letters home are filled with the thrill of discoveries until she writes of illness, and her musings turn dark, strange. Is it madness that led her to believe she saw a line of warriors marching with her dead husband Charles and daughter Lila? Are the locals supersitions eating into her common sense? Was it simply illness that caused her to jump to her death into the falls, following them into some other world? There couldn’t possible be truth in her mad writings, could there? After all this time, as much as then, Lydia isn’t convinced by the Reverend’s assurance that it was all just a tragedy, possibly a plant that caused delusions. Irene’s body was never returned home. It is the perfect cover for Julia’s visit, there only to solve the mystery with disinternment- while in truth she searches for the plant.
Present day, deep into the challenge set forth by her aunt, Julia is beginning to think there is far more to the tale than her aunt let on. The religious cult is odd, it’s leader menacing, treating outsiders like her as if they are a disease. He is special, born of the island, a survivor. There are strange rules, dangerous insects and Noah. Noah, who seems to have his own motives for being on the island, can she trust him? Can she trust herself? The place begins to play with her mind, both she and her deceased aunt Irene had lost their child and spouse (to death or abandonment). Maybe with their family history, losing her grip on reality like Irene did all those years ago, is the product of stress, sadness? Who is this child now helping her? Why always a child?
The island itself is an important character, not just for the atmosphere. It is rooted in superstition, true, but nature itself is deadly, mysterious particularly to an outsider. It can be friend or foe. At every turn she is forced to face off with the elements, more alive than the visitors, more dangerous even. Still it remains the nature of human beings that are the real scary part of this novel. I enjoyed Irene’s letters, and Aunt Lydia is a tough bird, a perfect character for this story (though I won’t go into why), someone whose intelligence is still sharp and can pierce you even in her years of decline.
The motives of some are downright chilling. The advance of science can sometimes be monstrous too. We are all ‘hungry’, we want the answers, we want to play God. Sometimes Science can make convincing excuses for it’s horrors, but nature can be just as brutal.
I liked the beginning with Irene, I have a thing for the past. I didn’t necessarily feel invested in Julia’s plight, I began to think – maybe you just offer yourself to be a victim. The ending, I get it… I think… but it is weird. Will she take Kapu with her, or will Kapu take her? Maybe even her ‘clever’ aunt is out of her element too, doesn’t truly know just how powerful this thing is. Is the Reverend just a creepy cult leader, high on the mysteries of the island or is he on the verge of Eternal Light? I still don’t know for sure. I am not sure the ending resolved all my questions.
Publication Date: October 1, 2018
Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books