George Clare buys an abandoned rural farmhouse for a song. But what his wife Catherine — an art restorer turned housewife — doesn't know is why the house is so cheap. She only knows that she is feeling reluctant to live there.
What unfolds in Elizabeth Brundage's novel, "All Things Cease to Appear," is a beautifully written story of intrigue, hauntings that is less a murder mystery, than a noir anatomy of murder, marital discord and fate's comeuppance.
Only George knows the house's horrific past — it is where the suicide/death of aging, impoverished parents and the relocation of their three sons took place. But before Catherine finds out the truth, she knows much more already because the spirit of the boys' mother communicates with her directly. By the time Catherine learns the truth from a neighbor, she has developed a nurturing relationship with the three sons who have come to help out on the farm. As Catherine's marriage to George deteriorates, his duplicity and dishonesty take on new proportions and his psychopathic character emerges, having dire consequences.
The novel begins in medias res with the brutal murder of Catherine, and George is immediately suspected and ardently pursued by local authorities, but to no avail.
"All Things Cease To Appear" takes its title from what the Hudson River painter George Inness said about the magic of the balance between light and dark in a landscape. Where they meet, "all things cease to appear." Brundage, who lives in Chatham, N.Y., makes frequent references to painting and its uses of light and dark to tell a story. George's destructive, even murderous character is balanced by Catherine's goodness and light as she supports and nurtures the three boys. Through her good graces, the boys find their way to fulfilling their own lives.
The wonderful writing is your comfort in this story of sometimes horrific events. The characters never lose strength nor does the reader/author relationship. There are no clear answers, only longing and trial, and as Faulkner called it, compassion and endurance.
He also said, "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." That applies so aptly to this novel that visits the past in lengthy flashbacks that explain the characters' lives and relationships, which are so important to the unfolding story. There are also wonderful passages about the Hudson River and the Hudson River Painters by this local author.
This is a novel of beauty, rendered in portraits of language and natural dialogue. Brundage has developed an innovative dialogue technique that is polished and seamless, most often not using any quotation marks. This is a work of fiction that develops its own style of writing and elevates the words to a consistent and revelatory experience of the art.
Colin Harrington is the events planner at The Bookstore and Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"All Things Cease To Appear"
By Elizabeth Brundage
Published by Alfred A. Knopp, 2016