Recap: A man has returned to his hometown for a funeral, but somehow something pulls him away from the funeral to an old neighbor’s home. He finds himself there, chatting with the familiar women who live there, but Lettie, the little girl he once knew who used to live there is no longer there. He can’t remember where she is or what ever happened to her. But as he sits by the pond behind her home, it all comes back to him.
The story turns into a long flashback to the man’s childhood. He recalls several captivating nights that are hard to believe he could ever forget. It starts with the memory of a man who killed himself in his father’s car parked at the end of his street. The man had gambled away all his friend’s money. This opens the world of the supernatural to the world of the natural, and suddenly strange things happen to the boy: a coin lodges in his throat; a worm is stuck in his foot; and his family hires a new babysitter. The babysitter turns out to be a personification of all the bad and of the supernatural infiltrating its way into the boy’s life. Her name is Ursula, and the boy is horrified.
He escapes as often as he can to his neighbors’ house, where Lettie lives. Lettie, her mother and grandmother have magical powers that allow them to manage the supernatural making its way into their world. But as his world falls apart thanks to Ursula, the boy isn’t so sure he, his family or Lettie and her family will ever be safe.
Analysis: The magic and fantasy of this novel threw me off initially. At first, I thought the author was writing in metaphors, but somewhere along the way, I realized everything was meant to be taken literally. Fantastical stories like this aren’t typically my favorite, but this one was intriguing. I didn’t know where it was going and I was interested enough to keep reading and find out. The ending turned out to be much sadder than I expected for not only the main character, but also for his magical friend Lettie.
I appreciated the end — however sad it may have been — for its acknowledgement of things coming full circle and the notion that childhood events have a lasting impact on one’s adult life. The book’s final moments are fairly open-ended, but because of the mystery of the story and the inherent enchantment that that mystery brings, it works. Ocean left me feeling wistful for answers and childhood — wistful in a good way.
MVP: Lettie. She’s a young girl with an old soul. Without giving anything away, we later find out why. But she is strong, and just the kind of person to give the story’s main character all the confidence he can muster.