Lanore “Lanny” McIlvrae is unlike any patient Dr. Luke Findley’s seen before, especially in his northern Maine hometown, St. Andrew. Brought into the ER on the midnight shift, Lanny is a prisoner of the local sheriff and covered with blood, not her own. She admits to having killed a man. Luke quickly learns the man she killed was the love of her life—her very long life. Though Lanny looks no older than sixteen, she is in fact about two hundred.
Lanny’s story, related to Luke, starts in 1809 and unfolds into the present. St. Andrew is also her hometown. As a girl of twelve she fell in love with the town founder’s son, Jonathan St. Andrew, and never fell out. Jonathan was never able to return her love, though he did return her passion, and from that exchange of passion grew all their troubles, even to the present day.
Exiled by her Puritan family to Boston, Lanny falls into the circle of Count Adair. It’s he who makes her immortal with his alchemical elixir. He also makes Lanny his lover and slave. She lives by his will and pleasure. Lanny learns the price of crossing Adair, the only person who can hurt or kill her. She can’t even hurt herself or take her own life.
Through the years she never forgets Jonathan, back home in St. Andrew. In spite of how he used and deserted Lanny, in spite of his marriage to another girl and his many affairs, Lanny loves him with a longing and fidelity that can’t be denied, that time can’t dim and knowledge can’t erase. Lanny’s love and Jonathan’s inability to love her drive this story. Their love is so real. Katsu doesn’t spoil it by romanticizing it, and she makes Lanny and Jonathan real by allowing them to have flaws. While Lanny is deeply flawed, she remains sympathetic throughout. She’s passionate, alive, and comes to know herself through her own actions. She tries as we all do to hide from the truth, her own and others’, when it’s inconvenient. Jonathan is never really an admirable character, but he comes through in the end as someone sympathetic.
Lanny’s narration of her life is captivating. For that matter so is Adair’s, a story within a story, related to Lanny and by Lanny to Luke—therein lies my problem. I was much more interested in the past stories than the present. The envelope made me impatient sometimes because I never forgot it was taking place in the present under time limitations. Lanny was, as I said, under arrest and in the ER when Luke met her.
She begs him to help her escape and explains why he should. I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief to the point of accepting that she’d go into such minute, rich and time-consuming detail to fill Luke in. Later, when they’re on the run, is surely the time for that. When trying to convince someone to help you escape immediate legal custody, do you go into the long version of what life was like in 1809 and how you fell in love with your childhood sweetheart, or give the quick and dirty account? Lanny’s had two hundred years to learn manipulation and persuasion.
Granted, detail and supporting arguments are necessary to make Luke, or anyone, believe her incredible tale and to convince him to put his entire life and career in jeopardy. It’s after midnight in a practically deserted hospital, but there are a nosy nurse and a sheriff eager to get his prisoner into a jail cell. The situation created a necessary tension. Unfortunately, some of the tension came from my skepticism. Get out of the hospital first, then go into details?
Otherwise, I did thoroughly enjoy Lanny’s and Adair’s life stories, and I can’t presume to say how the novel might have been better organized.