Try, if you can, to imagine two twenty-something over-educated cocktail waitresses, bored with their lives, embark on a road trip of discovery, end up in an Iowa cornfield, get tattoos, and begin transforming into their favorite fictional characters – Don Quixote and Emma Woodhouse. Whoa! The title A Body at Rest appears to be a total play on words.
I’ll admit immediately that if the main character Martha Andrevsky had not morphed into a character created by Jane Austen, I would not be reviewing this book. The fact that she is becoming Emma Woodhouse is truly intriguing. Of all of Austen heroines, she is the most fallible with plenty of defects to play off of: snobbery, intolerance, condescension, manipulation, meddlesomeness, ignorance and on and on! The potential for a hilarious transformation was ripe with reproof.
This novel originally caught my attention as a semi-finalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Consequently, there are numerous beaming five star reviews on Amazon by readers who only read an excerpt. That can be misleading to potential buyers unless they see what is happening and try to fish through the reviews and find someone who actually read the entire novel. They are there, and they are positive too. I was ready to suspend disbelief and give this first time author my unerring attention.
Martha and her roommate Nina return home to Cleveland, Ohio from their self actualizing sojourn to Iowa with new tattoos, no jobs, and odd things happening to them. Martha is speaking with an English accent, has a desire to wear a Regency frock and bloomers that mysterious appeared in her bedroom, and Nina is growing inches a day, sprouting a beard, and something else much more distressing that is definitely male. When Martha had secretly wished for something magical to happen to her to change her life, she never imagined that becoming a fictional character would be the answer. Neither did Nina! Besides the physical transformation that Martha and Nina are experiencing, they are starting to think and talk like the characters which further complicates interaction. When Martha becomes concerned for Nina’s declining health, she takes her to a clinic to be evaluated by doctors who are baffled by her symptoms and complaints ordering tests at the local hospital. Once there, she can no longer control her Don Quixote impulses; her affected speech, uncontrolled outbursts and growing appendage becomes unexplained ‘complications’ that the hospital staff resolves by placing her in the psych ward. Martha defends her friend against over zealous medical staff and is arrested and banned from the hospital. Now she needs others to help get her out, and calls in the big guns – her mother and Nina’s father, explaining the whole unbelievable story to them. They finally suceed in ‘breaking’ her out of the hospital, but Martha and Nina have had enough. They just want their own identities back and the logical solution is to go back where it all started, the tattoo parlor in Iowa.
Author Susan Petrone has taken a quirky paranormal concept, laced it with literary allusions and created an imaginative story with a surprising ending. This high concept novel was an ambitious undertaking for a first time novelist who obviously enjoys titling at windmills. Martha and Nina’s transformation into Emma Woodhouse and Don Quixote was gradually complete right down to its fateful fictional conclusion. Even though we did not see as many personality foibles that make Jane Austen’s Miss Woodhouse so endearingly flawed as I would have wished, nor was Don Quixote quite so delusional, the plot line parallels to Emma and Don Quixote were very fun to discover. Unfortunately, at times I felt disconnected to the story and wondered where it was all going, craving more laughter to help it along. I tried to stay open to the possibility of her two fictional characters becoming fictional characters and interacting in the real world, but their full potential was never reached to my satisfaction. In the end I can recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary fantasy, but would forewarn Janeites that this is definitely not your mothers Emma Woodhouse, only a milder version of her.
3 out of 5 Stars
A Body at Rest, by Susan Petrone
Drinian Press, Huron, Ohio (2009)
Trade paperback (264) pages
Cover image courtesy of Drinian Press © 2009; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, Austenprose.com