Book Review: SPARK by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk
Engine Books, January 29, 2013 ISBN: 978-1-93-812604-8 (trade paperback)
Andrea Simon, age twenty-nine, is like many millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and 2000’s. She lives in the millennial mecca of Brooklyn. Andrea and her lover/fiancé Jack, an artist (with a beard) have been together for two years. Due to a bad economy and an unclear sense of personal direction, she supports herself as a dog walker. She has some interesting friends, and sometimes she drinks too much and takes long walks at night. Andrea, however, is no two-dimensional character. She has a very complicated relationship with her mother (now sixty-three) and an even more complex connection to her older brother Delphie (now thirty-six). Delphie is a pyromaniac; a fire he set resulted in the death of a family. After serving a twenty-year prison sentence, Delphie has just been released into Andrea’s care. Jenny coerces her daughter Andrea into this set-up, but Andrea is only too willing to take on this anxiety-ridden responsibility. Andrea’s self-esteem is entwined with her actual reason for existing. In order to proceed with her life and go to her future, she must deal with the past.
Courtney Mauk’s novel is so well-written, and with such a high degree of proficiency, that it is hard to believe this is Miss Mauk’s debut. Her prose style is delicate yet also luscious. The story is told in the first-person narrative, from Andrea’s point of view, which serves equally to reveal and to conceal many different truths. Andrea is an unforgettable character. While Delphie is the one on parole, Andrea is imprisoned by her inability to confront and let go of her history. While Andrea struggles with her issues, she meets and befriends two very fascinating women. Rain is an actress who doesn’t get many film or stage roles any more.
“My favorite client is Rain Carmichael. In the 1950s, she was an ingénue. Now she is seventy-four and lives in a Park Slope brownstone with her fat, thirteen-year-old bulldog, Sammy. Unlike my other clients, who are usually at work, or out running errands when I arrive, Rain is always at home. Still, she has given me a key. I used to ring the bell anyway, not wanting to disturb her, but she admonished me, her red lips pursed, her penciled eyebrows rising. ‘Just come right in, my darling. Sadly, you’re not going to interrupt anything torrid these days.”
Although elderly, Rain has more gumption and ambition than the much younger Andrea. The other woman is Sally, a Russian national whom Andrea meets while out walking one night. Like Andrea, she suffers from insomnia. But while Andrea walks the streets at night to escape her problems and worries, Sally is firmly ensconced in the underground nightlife of Brooklyn. Eventually, Andrea gains hold over her life—as much hold as any of us have. While Andrea clearly is unsettled, the reader is allowed to enjoy the journey and not worry about the destination.
SPARK is a beautiful work of literary fiction. Courtney Mauk possesses vast wisdom, deep insight into the self-deceiving human heart, and tremendous talent. I look forward to reading her second novel, ORION'S DAUGHTERS, which Engine Books will publish on May 13, 2014.