When Evie Rosen is trapped in an avalanche during a ski trip, her husband fails to come her aid, and when she does escape, she decides to escape her life with him as well. Hiding out with her cousin and best friend, Molly, Evie discovers that she’s also pregnant—with twins. So she starts completely anew in upstate New York, as the substitute teacher for a high school history class in a strange little town. What Becomes Us, written from the perspective of Evie’s twin fetuses, is Micah Perks’ latest insightful and inventive novel.
As Evie learns how to live on her own, she also learns about the residents of Lonely Rincon, who rally around their newest addition with varying fervor. While parts of the book were definitely lacking, I immediately noticed the strength and definition of each character. Joan, an activist and the first to claim Evie as her best friend, never does what one would expect or hope a character to do in a given situation, which brings a realistic drama to the page. Her daughter Inez is equally strange, but perceptive, and lends a good sense of weirdness to the narrative, without feeling like a vessel for a particular moral, the way many children in adult novels do. Joan’s husband Mateo is also an ill-placed love interest for Evie, and watching their relationship form despite their circumstances was a gentle reprieve between more charged scenes. Joan’s brother Michael also exhibits an interest in Evie, who sees him as nothing more than her landlord, and a drunk one at that. But his sons River and Oshun relate well to her, and River ends up being the one to convince her to teach a controversial text in her history class.
Another thread woven through this story (which at times felt like one too many), is the story of Mary Rowlandson, a colonial woman who was captured by the Wampanoag queen Weetamoo during King Philip’s War, and whose book describing the ordeal became one of the first American “bestsellers.” The teacher before Evie was fired for using the book as a tool for promoting conspiracy theories and decrying domestic terrorism (this all takes place in 2002). In reading the book, Evie finds herself relating to both Mary Rowlandson and Weetamoo, and hopes that her interpretation can help the community understand the story from both sides. However, its influence cannot be denied, as Evie begins to have visions from Mary’s perspective that result in her sleepwalking, eating raw meat, and stealing from her neighbors. Still, Lonely Rincon is enamored with Evie, especially Christian conservative Margaret, whose community blog effectively makes and breaks Evie’s reputation with the town.
To use a food metaphor, the plot read like a lasagna recipe. Perks laid out a number of vibrant, intriguing themes/story lines (pregnant woman runs away from controlling husband; small town in New York has a close community of weirdos; a colonial-era text has sparked a controversy; unborn babies narrate the entire saga). They stacked on top of each other much like noodles, cheese, and sauce do in a lasagna—and then she pulled it out of the oven and served it immediately. In this way, the entire story felt a little rushed or forced, especially when it came to the final scenes. All her themes were converging (much like they would if you were to eat a forkful of lasagna), but in a very chaotic way that kept me from truly understanding what was happening. It was like eating that lasagna straight out of the oven, so that I only tasted heat, and then nothing else.
I wanted to like this book a lot more, because I breezed through it in just a few days, and found myself really enjoying the voice, the strong—and often poetic—prose throughout, and the very real characters and their compelling relationships. I would still recommend it for those reasons—but I will warn you that the ending may not be what you want it to. And that’s okay. I would rather an author leave me with questions than nothing to think about at all.
Kate Schefer has a BA in Creative Writing from Elon University, and currently lives in Minneapolis with her boyfriend. She is on a never-ending hunt for the best cup of coffee, and the best park bench upon which to sit and read a book, and drink said coffee. If you approach her, she will make you wait for a response until the end of the chapter, because she never uses bookmarks.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Outpost19. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.