Good luck forgetting “All Things Cease to Appear” after you read it.
Elizabeth Brundage’s tale of two interrelated families who first intersect in the 1970s is compulsively readable and almost hypnotic in its slow build to the tragedy described in the first chapter. Professor George Clare comes home to find his young wife Catherine brutally murdered in their upstairs bedroom. His three year old daughter Franny is alone in the house. Horrified and numb with grief, he leaves Franny with the neighbors and summons the sheriff. As the long surreal night unfolds he comes to realize that he is the prime suspect. Desperate, he packs up himself and Franny and flees to his parents.
The rest of the book slowly and carefully unfurls the tangled and tragic history of the Hale family, who owned and lost the dairy farm which the Clare’s, intellectual interlopers from the city, purchased for a song at auction. The three Hale boys, orphaned under suspicious circumstances before the foreclosure are taken in by an uncle but soon return to do odd jobs on their beloved farm and end up befriending lonely and shy Catherine and babysitting Franny. As we get to know the families we begin to see that something is perhaps not quite right with George. The building of suspense is very subtle and quiet. The more you think you understand what is going on, the more unsure you become. I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, except to say that the ending is unsettling and devastating. But there is a redemptive arc and hope for the future.
This is a complex and satisfying novel that does not let you off lightly. Brundage moves effortlessly back and forth in time, seeding slight clues and setting scenes with a few well-chosen words. The plot reminded me of a spring slowly coiling into itself – but at the same time unspooling. Each clue or revelation leads inexorably to the horrific crime that opens the story, but more questions arise at every turn. I can’t praise this novel enough. If you read one piece of fiction this semester it has to be “All Things Cease to Appear.”