Eurydice (Edie) is a “body” for the Elysian Society. As a body, she works with clients who seek to speak with loved ones they have lost. Dressed in a simple white dress, she sits in Room 12 and once in possession of an item belonging to the deceased, she swallows a lotus – a pill that summons the spirits of the deceased – and the living communes with the dead. That’s the general principle of Sara Flannery Murphy’s debut novel The Possessions.
Edie has been working at the Elysian Society for five years, a long time for a body. She leads a very quiet, private life. “Since I joined the Elysian Society,” she says, “my emotions have evolved. They’ve gone from unwieldy to finely attuned. ready to snap into nothingness.”
That ability, to become a blank slate, is perhaps one of the reasons that Edie has been able to do this job for as long as she has. But then Patrick Braddock walks into her life. Patrick wants to speak with his wife, Sylvia. She drowned in a lake. The circumstances of Sylvia’s death are part of what propels the plot forward, but the relationship between Patrick and Edie is definitely the driving force.
Although Edie tells Patrick that she is not privy to the conversations that take place between a client and their loved ones, the line between Edie and Sylvia definitely blurs.
I was evasive with Patrick in Room 12 today. The truth is that Sylvia’s memories have lingered. One image in particular, clear and deep. I remember Patrick’s hand against me, at my waist. The golden hairs at his wrist, his long fingers holding the ghost of a summer tan. One or two fingernails endearingly frayed, as if he bites them when no one is watching. I could reach right into the memory, interlace my fingers with his. Feel the light calluses of his fingertips.
Before long, Edie and Patrick’s professional relationship crosses a line and Edie experiences the burgeoning weight of desire. As it often does, it clouds her judgment and drives her to find out what really happened to Sylvia.
The Possessions is a well-written literary hybrid: part mystery, part sci fi (the world seemed slightly off-kilter to me, not the far future but certainly not present day), part love story. It is certainly intriguing and yet…I found it slow going.
Edie’s past is a mystery. Her past is certainly alluded to, but we don’t learn much about her until the very end of the novel and by then it feels more like expository backfill. She’s really a non-entity and that makes it difficult to feel any empathy for her.
Patrick fares only a little bit better. As the grief-stricken husband trying to move on, he’s serviceable enough. Ultimately, neither he nor Edie are well-rounded enough to make me root for their relationship.
So in the plus column: great writing, intriguing plot, lots of potential. In the minus column: slow-moving, lackluster characters, some clunky plot machinations.
That said, Sara Flannery Murphy is definitely an author to keep your eye on.