All is change

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 22.04.2022

Irresistible Blending is Mary Carey’s first novel. Born in Toronto, she moved to Luxembourg in 1991 and, apart from five years spent working for Baffinland Iron Mines back in Canada, has been living here ever since. Besides making a name for herself as a journalist and a corporate writer, she has long been a key figure on Luxembourg’s creative writing circuit.

Carey calls her book “a psychological thriller and/or a science fiction novel”. Set in rural Vermont in the year 2000, it puts Eleanor Adams at the heart of the plot. Eleanor is a striking beauty and an exceptionally talented artist who has sought refuge from the intrusions of modern life in Celestania, an isolated commune started and run by Summer, a drop-out and wealthy heir. The place attracts the usual suspects: people who want to get away from crowds, people who choose to be close to nature, people who meditate in the spirit tent and are drawn to self-sufficiency. Wellness weekends and healing crystals loom large, while the full moon is celebrated as the high tide of psychic power.

Yet, life is far from idyllic. As in most small communities, jealousy and gossip are rife. Eleanor, we soon find out, is a marginal figure, spending most of her time painting rather than participating in communal cooking or yoga sessions. We also discover that she has developed some intriguing post-human skills. She sees people in terms of colour and is able to hear or read their thoughts. Synaesthesia plays a crucial part in this.

As the Bryan Appleyard epigraph suggests, Carey sets out to explore in what ways knowledge might advance in the arts, and in painting in particular: Are there colours that are so perfect and “new” that we do not have words to describe them? And are aesthetic insights and scientific advances mutually exclusive tools when we try to explore or define the meaning of life?

Carey raises questions around the march of evolution and the transformations it brings about. After all, just as our own ancestors were not human, our descendants are likely to be completely different from us some day. The novel intimates that seeing man as the pinnacle of creation (as we often tend to do!) prevents us from spotting advances in human cognitive abilities, but that does not mean they are not happening. Once these speculative elements take over, the narrative starts cutting fast between actual experiences and new modes of understanding.

Eleanor’s experience illustrates that stepping across the boundaries of what we know and agree on is lonely, violent and risky for any individual since it turns you into someone else and keeps you marooned inside your own skull. Yet unlearning is not an option and going back is impossible. Running parallel to this individual transformation, there is a sinister plot development associated with three predatory characters who come out of nowhere.

At this point it sometimes feels that too many elements have been packed into the ambitious narrative. Threads are picked up and then quickly dropped again, which can be slightly confusing and makes reading a challenge.

In my eyes, Carey is at her best when she evokes the three generations of the family at the heart of Irresistible Blending. We learn that Bradley, Eleanor’s nine-year-old son, is desperate to belong, though he learnt very young how to conceal his own needs and emotions in order to protect his self-absorbed mum. And then there is the relationship between Eleanor and Edith, her mother. The latter is used to being in charge and struggles to cope with a daughter who escapes maternal control in more ways than one.

Edith, we are told, is “pure up-town, social x-ray chic.” In her opulent New York mansion nibbles mean caviar and small homemade toasts. The various rooms are described in detail, so that some of the pages end up reading like a posh auctioneer’s catalogue. Nothing is left to your imagination, though anyone that has ever glanced at a sophisticated millionaire’s interior in a glossy magazine will be on familiar territory. Still, this takes nothing whatsoever away from the characters themselves and from the occasional satirical clin d’œil.

Mary Carey, Irresistible Blending, Black Fountain Press, 2022 (ISBN978-99959-998-9-6)

Janine Goedert
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