Book Review: All Is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber

These must be games the mind plays on anyone who’s ever lost someone, truly lost them. Never seen the proof of her body lowered into the ground, never seen her lie still as she is covered with dirt.  Maybe she ran away, maybe she has amnesia, maybe she was stolen. Maybe. The refuge of every mother of a solider whose body is unrecovered, or whose child has disappeared.

On a beach in Rio de Janeiro a young women wades into the pleasant water for a swim only to never return. All Is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber explores how the remaining members of the Maurer family cope with this disappearance and how fragile they are both as individuals and elements of the family unit.

The day Luiza disappeared was as bright and hot as any other that summer, and although most of us were at the beach, no one saw anything, even if many of us would later claim we had. Such a curious thing- everybody wanting to be a part of it.

Alternating between the narratives of Dora, Hugo and their remaining children Magda and Evie, we slowly begin to see the picture of the Maurer family come into full focus.

Hugo is distraught by the loss of daughter, by the loss of the one person who saw beneath the haze of his illness and into his true core. And without her there to center him, he spins and spins, winding himself up into a frenzy of doubt and distress until he collapses under the weight of his personal torment.

Because if she had swum away a few weeks later, when he was high, he might have jumped in and out-swam her, bellowing her to follow. Damn the torpedoes. Or a few months after that, when he was low, his gaze would have remained fixed on the barnacles as she slipped away. He never forgave himself for that night, or anything that came after. It was his fault. He was her father and it was his job to prove her loved her again and again and again. He should never has let her go.

Not long after she disappears, Hugo takes his other two daughters back to the beach where Luiza swam off under the scorching sun. He forces them to recount everything they did, to tell him every detail so that he might be the one to solve this mystery and bring his daughter back to him. But his youngest daughter, Evie is torn between helping her father and breaking a promise to the sister whom she may never see again.

She knew what Luiza’s secret was before tonight but she hadn’t understood that it was important. Luiza kept saying it didn’t matter, not to worry. Now, she can’t retrieve the words.

Dora is the epitome of composition and style, always perfectly coiffed when accompanying her husband to the Copacabana to socialize with friends. But underneath her polished facade, she is struggling to raise a family as her husband slowly crumbles under the weight of the mental illness that first captivated her with its highs but threatens to tear everything apart with its lows. As a girl, her eldest daughter Luiza fiercely latched on to her father, so Dora easily shed the responsibility of caretaker.

And this, or some variation of it, was what they did for years: Dora took care of the babies and Luiza took care of Hugo, and that was when she began to lose her eldest daughter. Because her focus had to shift to her father, and she was just a child, after all; she had to choose. To become his nursemaid, devote all that care, mimic adult duty to such a degree- it was too much.

But the guilt of shunting off such a daunting task onto a child still haunts her. And when her daughter goes missing, Dora believes that she is somehow at fault. Driven by this guilt, she refuses to believe that her daughter will not return.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she wonders: if she does everything right, everything she feels she should, might God (whom she doesn’t believe in) give her back her old life? The old, normal life when her daughter was still here. The life Luiza always insisted she never wanted. As though Dora had forced it all upon her.

Adrift in the sea of expectation, Luiza found purpose in caring for her father, but as she grows she is urged to choose a path beyond the walls of her home and the predictable instability of her father.

You’re not responsible for him. Even now she could hear her mother’s voice. It’s chemical. Stop mythologizing a disease. Dora always made it sound so simple, as through he was nothing more than the competing chemical in his brain, which, if acted upon by some magical drug, could restore him to a neutral, unmodulated self. Without his moods, without mercury. But to Luiza, the moods were him. His mind, his soul- could a drug act on those, take them too?

She pushes against her mother’s ideals and in an act of rebellion she seeks comfort in all variety of places, hoping to uncover the answers to the questions that plague her. Her desperate search for peace leads her to where the water meets the sand and she dives right in.

All Is Beauty Now is a tapestry of family and how one loose thread unravelled pulls the rest along with it. Written in prose as rich as the colors of the Brazilian Carnival, the story maintains a lasting brilliance until the faithful conclusion.

Hope. The only thing crueller than being hopeless. In hope lived what if what if what if; in hope she looked for Luiza because the search feeds possibility. Or might finally blot it out.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Little Brown and Company

 

 

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