Fiction, literary fiction, romance

Book Review: The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Trigger warning: sexual assault, rape

“But it’s what we do, what we’ve done for years now. We drag our past behind us like a weight, still shackled, but far enough back that we never have to see, never have to openly acknowledge who we once were.”

Elle is a 50 year old woman who is married to her husband, Peter. We are introduced to them at The Paper Palace, the nickname of their family summer home in Cape Cod. Elle has come here every summer since childhood but this year, it’s different. Elle has just had sex with her childhood best friend, Jonas who is also married.

The book is basically a walk through of Elle’s thought process as she decides whether to leave Peter for Jonas or to stay with Peter and the life they have built. That thought process includes going back to the past and remembering all of the events that led her to this point.

“Ever since I was old enough to question my own instincts, my mother has given me the same piece of advice: “Flip a coin, Eleanor. If the answer you get disappoints you, do the opposite.” We already know the right answer, even when we don’t—or we think we don’t. But what if it’s a trick coin? What if both sides are the same? If both are right, then both are wrong.”

I don’t remember how I came across this book but I remember the sentiment was people being disturbed. Still on a quest to read a book that moves me, I jumped on this and for a debut effort, it was pretty good. The format of the book has Elle as the only narrator and is told in two alternating story lines. The first in present day and the other, from childhood to the present touching on the major events that shaped her but don’t worry, it doesn’t get confusing and in fact the progression was done so well that it made you look forward to each upcoming time period.

“I wonder if he would love me if he could see inside my head-the pettiness, the dirty linen of my thoughts, the terrible things I have done.”

There is a pretty significant event that happens in the book that of course, I can’t give away but I assume it would be a talking point for many as a moral question. Was it deserved? or was it outright wrong?. Heller did a good job of developing the characters so well that you got a full sense of who they were and it was up to you as a reader, whether you liked them or not. I will say that I considered Elle’s mom a terrible mother and I wonder if I am in the majority or minority with that.

“…now there is no turning back. No more regrets for what I haven’t done. Now only regrets for what I have done. I love him, I hate myself; I love myself, I hate him. This is the end of a long story.”

I will say that, I did not like the ending. In all art forms, I don’t like ambiguous endings. Don’t make me fill in the blanks, tell me what to think! Overall, it is a dark book and if you are someone who absorbs the energy of books you might want to think hard before getting into it. I think the book went a tad longer than it should have but it was written very well and showed how life can be messy and complicated with many grey areas. I enjoyed it.

Taynement

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