The Realm of Secondhand Souls by Sandra Shea is a beautiful book. I didn’t want to finish it. I actually read three pages every night for the last two weeks so it wouldn’t end just yet. It’s supremely lyrical yet there are hard, uncomfortable truths amongst the tattered lace and dried flowers — particularly about the dangers of memory, holding on to the past, and closing yourself off from pain. It’s also a book about the arduous and circuitous process of making ripped, stained, and shattered things (people, you) whole again.
The writing makes you feel like you’re underwater or floating on air or dreaming with your inner eye and all of your senses. Let me show you:
Novena brought the cup to her mouth and took a sip. The tea was slightly bitter on her tongue, but as she held it in her mouth, it changed to a sweeter afternote, like the tender leaves of a rare plant. She swallowed, and she felt it coating her insides like the thick nap of green velvet.
The next sip brought more green, shattering into a thousand greens, the green of parrots, snakes, emeralds, of melon, jade, and new grass, greens so translucent they nearly blinded her. Yet all of these were greens she knew, all of them in a place she knew — the same room, with dark wood walls, a pink sofa, the nap of green velvet again, this time between her fingers. She saw the colored lengths of fabric hung at her windows, recalled the scent of tea and curry and the low murmur of women’s voices in the late afternoon.
Memory was rising in her like steam, steam and the smell of slightly scorched cloth, of warmth and industry.
One of the things that I am always searching for on PaperBack Swap is vintage knitting, embroidery, and sewing books, and this book kept coming up on my keyword searches. I dismissed it a number of times — I wasn’t looking for fiction! But oh, that’s a beautiful cover! Hmmm, I do love that title! until it came up on so many searches that I gave one of my points to get it, not knowing quite what to expect. What strange fortuitousness.