Engine Books, March 2012
Echolocation is the sensory ability bats and dolphins use to identify the relative positions of other objects and beings. As such, this concept fits beautifully as the title of Myfanwy Collin’s debut novel, a story of lost, damaged souls feeling their way through the world, relying on instinct to divine their paths.
The novel opens with stunning event: Geneva, a young woman with a bad marriage and a troubled past, loses her arm in a logging accident. The reader is quickly propelled into the midst of a story that is already fraught with loss, grief and abandonment.
Geneva and her “sister” Cheri were once the closest of friends, inseparable, bonded in childhood, both left to be raised by the kindly Aunt Marie. But when we first meet them, Geneva and Cheri have been estranged for several years. Marie passes away, and Geneva, who cared for her in the end, takes over Marie’s struggling store. Cheri, apprehensive and resentful, returns to their small, upstate New York town and moves back into their house, but makes no real effort to mend fences with Geneva. Cheri’s mother, Renee, who years ago left town -and her daughter with it – finds herself kidnapping (or, in her mind, rescuing) a baby from her boyfriend Rick – a baby he acquired under suspicious circumstances and intends to sell. Unaware that Marie is dead, Renee heads North with the child, seeking refuge and a new beginning, with Rick soon in pursuit.
Echolocation’s characters and setting strike one as familiar at first– you have your small town, a “good” girl, a “bad” mother, a prodigal daughter, a capable and saintly older woman, a sincere but rather simple local man with a heart of gold. But the characters unfold over time, and as we learn more about their pasts, they become increasingly complex. When Rick arrives, looking for Renee and the baby he claims is his own, events take a surprising turn, and each in our cast is forced to consider his/her history, misdeeds, atonement, and a way forward.
Collins’ expertise writing flash fiction and short fiction shine through in her novel. Her prose is lean and precise, creating dramatic tension and emotional intensity without unnecessary embellishment. Her style is also very readable, so much so, that you might miss some of the loveliness of her language if you aren’t paying careful attention. I often found myself going back over the words to read a little more closely, such as in the following passage:
“Rick had thought he would come in, find Renee, get the baby and be gone before anyone had a chance to raise a stink. But he hadn’t thought he’d be up against all of these women, this cold, this distant place…. It had been a long time since he’d used a gun—really used one. There seemed so much time and space between him and pulling the trigger.”
There was only one moment in the novel I wished for just a little more, and that was in the crucial moment in which Geneva makes a rather radical choice about how to deal with Rick. Was it truly the only choice she could have made, I wondered? But I quickly accepted it as the plot continued to draw me in, and as the desire to know what would happen next eclipsed my doubt.
Echolocation will appeal to readers who are drawn to stories that explore humanity in all of its facets, the good and the bad, and that consider the rocky road to redemption. Fans of literary short fiction and flash fiction will especially appreciate Collins’ tightly crafted writing and suspenseful style.