When I read the jacket copy for DISAPPEARING EARTH by Julia Phillips, I assumed it was a “who done it,” as the description talked about an ongoing police investigation. I don’t generally gravitate toward missing persons/abduction-type stories; but this is where I think the jacket copy is misleading.
The jumping-off point for this book is the disappearance of two girls and its impact on the community. And as the book description states, the novel focuses on “the intimate lives of a cast of richly drawn, interconnected characters.” I’m not sure how interconnected these characters really feel – or just how much of a role the girls’ disappearance truly played in their storylines.
For me, this novel read as a series of short stories which connect mostly on a thematic level. What does that mean to the reader? It means this literary novel will give you much to chew on and digest. Themes about the roles of women, the impact of the Berlin Wall’s fall in Russia, and female and cultural oppression are prevalent. Lots to consider in this relatively small book!
The author shines in her depiction of Russia’s tundra and volcanic backdrops, and does so with gorgeous, sensory writing. And she is adept at getting into the emotional hearts and minds of her characters with brevity and beautiful metaphorical imagery. Some examples:
The hearth’s coals popped. She rolled onto her side to look. The coals were black, but still somehow crackling; she watched without understanding. Crackles getting louder. Only after a minute did she grasp the pops weren’t from the fire at all – the reindeer were passing outside the yurt. The noise that woke her was the motion of eight thousand delicate hooves stepping just beyond the canvas wall.
Her heart had been fragile, its chambers shifting as easily and dangerously as volcanic earth. Slava got in there before the ground had hardened.
I would recommend DISAPPEARING EARTH by Julia Phillips to readers who appreciate literary fiction, character-driven fiction and short stories. This author is talented!