Note: I was given a copy of this book by the author to review
Wander Home opens with a great description of a day at the beach, and instantly we get a sense of something different. Wyle doesn’t stop the story to explain though, she just keeps the scene going, choosing her moment to tell us about it, not when we ask for it. I have known many an author to do this to readers and I have to say I rather like the mystery if there is a chance it gets revealed to us later.
There is no real surprise this book is about death and the afterlife, Wyle’s preface tells readers that it is set in the afterlife, but the way she has chosen to write about it gives it a new perspective, and does actual make you forget this is supposed to be death. In that sense there was a Lovely Bones feel about it all. There was no connection to earth like Susie Salmon had, yet the ability to change “heaven” to be what you wanted and see people you once knew or even wanted to meet was similar. Not to lessen the impact of Wander Home mind you, it has been very well constructed as a reality and through description and detail it adds depth and truth.
We are first introduced to Cassidy, her grandparents Sarah and Jack, and her great grandmother Amanda playing on the beach. We are given no real answers about what is going on, not only regarding their situation, but also to the rules of this reality. You can only assume that this is how the world works and accept it, and then hope it is going to be revealed later on. The initial mystery does not remain long as the arrival of Cassidy’s mother Eleanor starts a chain reaction of clarification. As things are explained to Eleanor, we too are given an explanation. This is often the case, we learn as they learn. In well written stories it makes the necessary information parts smoother without the need of long paragraphs where entire worlds are broken down for reader understanding before the story can continue.
The story is engaging in as much as you want to find out more about the world, and find some answers to your own questions, such as where everyone else is. When I stopped to finally go to bed I found myself wanting to return in the morning to see where this intrigue lead me, always a good sign in a new book. The focus on this single family makes you wonder where everyone else can be. However these questions are answered further into the book and you soon realise, once you have a greater understanding of how the world operates, just how complex yet simplistic is actually is.
Once you see that this afterlife is filled with people from everywhere and every time, it is interesting to see how they live their lives. We are told that sleep in unnecessary, though people still enjoy it, but whether food and drink is required is unclear. There seems to be a lot of conversations involving and revolving around food which sparked my query, but there are multiple other unnecessary things that people did as well. Humans, I think, like having structure. In a world where you can be whenever and have such freedom everyone still manages to fall into the same systems they know.
There is a society of sorts in this story, no matter how surreal or fantastical, and people relive and do what they enjoyed in life. People make things and they work, whether they need to or not. People teach, people create, and there are markets and festivals where money is exchange more as recognition of a job well done for the creation than anything else. People buy chairs from a craftsman when they could conjure one themselves.
In that sense there is a lot to make you forget it is anything like death. Is this the point? Again we come back to The Lovely Bones idea, “heaven” was what you made it, places are created and shared and remembered because of what people did and how they lived. The entire world is made up of the memories of the humans who live within the world. In that sense it is rather philosophical, at the very least poetic or something.
Wyle does have a very poetic way of writing, some of her descriptions are really well written, and even the seemingly non-important details are not neglected. Her vocabulary is also very advanced, I found that I had discovered three new words by the end of the book: contrapuntal, sartorial, and atavistic; all of which I had never heard before and all of which are fantastic words. There is a great quote in there about reading as well: “[Reading] let you climb inside of people – even though they were made up people – and end up understanding humans, in general, a little better.” I think this is yet another great understanding of the power of reading. Another one of my favourite lines was “Kindly allow me the prejudices of my time”, for some reason I thought that was a very eloquent line; it really stood out to me.
The ideal Wyle has created is highly alluring. If only there was a realm, in life or death where you could change, relive, feel, think, and be in any age you wished. Young and playful, old and wise, it is an interesting concept, especially the ability to relive old memories with exact detail whenever you pleased, emotions included and everything. Though if anything it should make you appreciate the fact you can do most of those things now, instead of spending you time wishing and waiting for it to be possible later on. Not to get swept up in the promise of an ideal and instead live while you have the chance.
Through Eleanor’s narrative we realise that things may not be as simple as it first appeared. Just when we think we finally have figured out the world we are given new information that is mysterious, and being mysterious to the characters themselves makes it more intriguing. Initially we see alternating views between members of the family but as the story progresses it is clear Eleanor becomes the driving force in the story. This was not a bad thing, while the story was still being introduced we get a lot about the other characters and their histories, and despite the focus being around Eleanor’s story a lot more, we still learn about the other characters, they are not forgotten.
Overall it was a good read, it was different and imaginative. Wyle manages to capture family dynamics rather well and the relationships between family members whether it is husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, or the wisdom of a great grandmother to a child. Despite the nature of the topic it is not a complicated read, though there are a few minor adult themes. Whilst reading I did find a few spelling and name errors but I have since been informed by the author that these issues where in fact not mistakes, but rather deliberate conscious actions; either way they do not distract from the story. There are no jarring sentences and the detail and description of the locations are more than enough to compensate minor mistakes. And on a side note, there is a discussion about whether the Hanging Gardens ever existed; by chance I read an article that concluded there is strong evidence that they never did. So there you go.