Protected from the news media after her brother dies, Saskia is palmed off on family friends — Jane and Philip and their son, Xavier. They are bohemians, meaning that they live in a loft in Manhattan and Philip is a moody artist with a beard. After Jane leaves him, Philip bundles the kids into the car and drives up to a place called Home, a commune deep in the Maine woods. Maybe Saskia is the girl in the violent prophecy that Abraham, the magnetic pseudo-mystic who runs the place, keeps alluding to?
Dazzling and unsettling the residents with his arbitrary rules and pronouncements about how the world works, Abraham speaks in portentous aphorisms and exhibits a growing paranoia. The inhabitants need to prepare themselves, he says, for the inevitable moment when the authorities attempt to seize the property (he’s let the mortgage payments lapse). His philosophy, such as it is, is centered on the notion of “unthinging” — freeing oneself of material possessions, extraneous emotions and the trappings of the “thinged world.” But what constitutes a “thing” seems to be entirely up to him.
There is a lot to sort through. In dozens of alternating chapters, some less than a page long, Beverly-Whittemore unfurls the past and the present in parallel narrative lines, starting from Will’s death in one timeline and from the much later knock on Saskia’s door in the other.
This device can work in the story’s favor, with one chapter complementing the next, or it can attenuate the tension with extraneous logistical details. The journey Home, when Saskia and her friends return to the now-disbanded commune, is far less interesting than what happens once they arrive.
There are so many lovely moments in the book, beautiful passages of writing that speak to Beverly-Whittemore’s empathy and lyrical powers of description. Gazing at Ben, the boy she loves on sight as a teenager, Sakia feels a thrill of connectivity. “His look of curiosity, and pleasure, surprised me,” she says. “A thread pulled so tautly between us that I knew if I could pluck it, it would make a beautiful sound.”
At Home, too, Saskia revels in the splendor and wonder of the natural world as taught to her by Marta, an older woman who lives nearby and has, we will come to learn, a crucial role to play in everyone’s lives. Haunted by the memory of her lost brother, Saskia sees shades of Will everywhere. She talks to him in an effort to work through her survivor’s guilt.
“To speak the language of this place was another way to get close to you,” she writes. “You were out there somewhere, wandering, waiting.”