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One morning, a 17-year-old girl opens her high school English textbook to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and reads her favorite lines aloud:
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
She lifts a peach from the fruit bowl in her kitchen and considers it: “Do I dare eat a peach?” Three possible answers to this simple question spur a trinity of parallel lives in Monahan’s sparkling new novel.
Twenty-four years later, on one path, that girl is Katherine, a physician who contacts an old lover who had left her for Catholicism. On a second, she is Kitty, a married woman who falls for her female English professor. On a third, she calls herself Antonia, a lesbian separatist who helps found an all-women’s commune built on a renovated oil rig.
What unfolds will delight, surprise, and challenge readers to ask hard questions about faith, identity, fate, and choice.
While the premise may sound overcooked to some (al la Gwenyth Paltrow’s Sliding Doors), the superb writing in Three (Flashpoint Press) far offsets any reservations skeptics may have about plot.
Even though all three characters have a different set of details and circumstances, the same symbols, tropes, and metaphors shadow each character’s plot line–like ghosts of their alternate selves; they are three versions of the same story. Reference to the ocean, for instance, is a strand consistently pulled through the life of each character.
Likewise, all three share the same sense of humor and deal with health and illness in similar ways: in one scene, Katherine mocks her patient’s choice to “honor the pain” in her shoulder rather than accepting medical advice from her physician.
In another scene, Antonia scorns her separatist comrades for renouncing any kind of western medicine in favor of chanting, which has severe consequences. Kitty also copes with pain and health when her father falls ill.
In each instance, despite the trio’s snarky critique of a New Age dilettante’s approach to healing, they all have an intuitive inclination toward the spiritual, and a deep belief that “the universe” has a way of interceding in our lives.
With an air of myth, an acute sense of irony, a climactic sex scene you’ll never forget, and a nod to Jeanette Winterson (Oranges are Not the Only Fruit), this savory book will keep a smirk of pleasure smeared across your face at every pithy dialogue, sharp observation, and lyrical turn of phrase.
Succulent, charming, and sexy, Three is a book you’ll want to come back to.
By Annemarie Monahan
Paperback, 9781604866315, 300 pp.