THE ANNIVERSARY, by Stephanie Bishop, is a mesmerizing, challenging, subversive book that keeps the reader off balance until the very last page. The digressive passages go on too long, but the cumulative effect is powerful.
Lucie is a successful novelist, married to Patrick, an iconic filmmaker who is twenty years her senior. They met when Lucie was Patrick’s student in college, and together, they devote their lives to their work and their passion for one another, collaborating on projects and finishing one another’s sentences.
On their fourteenth wedding anniversary they go on a cruise that is supposed to save their marriage. Instead, Patrick is swept overboard in a terrible storm. The past, and Lucie’s life, unravel in ripples and waves.
As the story unfolds to reveal what, exactly, happened that night, Bishop explores the shifting line between truth and fiction, where a memory ends and a creation begins. She asks what it means to be a writer, a woman, a writer who’s a woman. And she challenges our assumptions, as the truth slips and slides as told by this unreliable, often self-involved narrator.
…the linear story is always an illusion, a selective retelling. Filmy. As Fellini said, I’m a liar but an honest one. (367)
In the aftermath of the accident, as Lucie contends with her shattered life in the spotlight of having won a major literary award, the story builds to a dystopian, terrifying climax. It left me wanting to scream at Lucie even as I felt deeply, furiously sympathetic.
Lucie is a flawed character. She’s made compromises and sacrifices for her art in a world that demands from women the impossible.
…if my writing had often been deemed too feminine, I myself was now not feminine enough. At my core, I was always guilty of one failing or another. (369)
THE ANNIVERSARY casts an unflinching gaze at life in the public eye, how it creates and distorts, builds up and destroys. Lucie struggles to keep her life private, even as it is her life that provides the material out of which she creates her novels. The boundaries sift and rearrange, as the line between truth and invention, what is available for public consumption and judgement, and what is not, is blurred.
All truth cannot be captured in fiction, but I know I am more honest with myself when I am being fictional, rather than pretending to be real…But it takes time, to do this, to get to that place where I can at last arrange the events in order and see them for what I think they were. The distance lets me recognize the points that mattered, the things that had the power to remain alive inside of me, and then I can let go of all the rest. (379)
With little solid ground to stand on, the story oscillates to a heartbreaking conclusion. Until, in the final pages, a new creation unfolds: an ending we can bear. A fiction that gives us hope.