Layered and expensive; a beguiling yarn…
Lockridge blurs the lines between fact and fiction, capturing the collective human experience of life with all its intricacies in this third and final installment in The Enigma Quartet series. Two failed Utopian communities, Rappites and Owenites, struggle to find the answer to life’s greatest enigma: what’s the point of it all? The book begins with Mary and Percy Schiller exploring a labyrinth previously created by Father Rapp. Soon enter other geniuses who have their own mission—to save the planet from annihilation, to preserve the world’s ecology, to root out human aggression. Written in first-person omniscient voice, with a few portions in George’s memoir entries and Claire’s confessional letters to Mary, the narrative alternates between the past and the present with interludes about various characters’ backstories, some of them stretching back to the state’s early history. This unconventional narrative structure, in which the story shifts among a large number of characters, sets the stage for a madcap fun ride, with twists piling atop twists. Allusions to lives and works of literary giants of the past, particularly Shakespeare, Dante, and several other English Romantics add to the intrigue (not everyone will agree about the Shakespearean bits, but the book plausibly gathers up the evidence that Shakespeare’s death was a suicide). Though the conflicts are sometimes weird and over-the-top, like Claire’s and George’s individual attraction toward Mary and Percy; Mary’s findings about the plant pandemic, the book convincingly argues they’re worth intense scrutiny. Lockridge writes authoritatively and with just the right level of flourish: “Percy bewitched me – carving space like an eagle focused on his prey. Oblivious of my presence, heedless.” Though his habit of emphasizing detail over narrative structure makes the story confusing at times, it helps pack both an emotional and intellectual punch. There’s plenty of dry wit, richly imagined screwball situations, and many laugh-out-loud moments. But under all the whacky humor (as in the earlier installments in The Enigma Quartet), the novels’ tone stays somber; the book deftly explores love, passion, intricacies of relationships, marriage, family bonds, human aggression along with nuclear fission, climate control, environmental concerns, the biology of sex, and how our interior selves are shaped by memory and consequence. After the miles of twists and turns, the ending is both satisfactory and heartening. Scanlon’s revealing illustrations bring the cast and the story to life. Provocative, thoughtful, and spectacular; readers of unconventional literary fiction, like John Irving fans will want to have a look.
The Woman in Green (The Enigma Quartet)
Larry Lockridge (Author), Marcia Scanlon (Author)
Pub date January 5, 2023
Price 31.36 (USD) Hardcover, $20.99 Paperback, $9.49 Kindle