Review: The lives of a large cast of characters intersect in random and wonderful ways during the summer of 1969 on a (fictional) barrier island off the coast of southern New Jersey in Elysiana, a stand-alone novel by Chris Knopf, author of two mystery series set in the Hamptons.
The central character, if indeed only one could be named, is Gwendalynn Anders, a young woman who arrives on Elysiana not by design, not sure exactly how she got there — a convertible, two guys, some drugs and lots of beer were involved — but sure she doesn't want to return home. Desperate for cash, she meets a guy on the beach and offers to clean the house he shares with three other guys. And so begins the expanding network of interpersonal relationships that form the backbone of this novel as events unfold over a period of several months. The timeline isn't strictly chronological, as related concurrent episodes are recounted separately.
Marketed as a thriller, the primary element of suspense comes from the reader not knowing — but caring and deeply committed to discovering — what happens next. Everyone has a personal attachment to the island, even newcomer Gwendalynn, and the setting itself quickly emerges as a significant "character", as much as any of its residents. When a massive hurricane heads for Elysiana towards the end of the book, the vulnerability of the island seems almost personal.
There's a real sense — and appeal — of the film American Graffiti to this book. Both share a similar story structure, the crossing of lives at the end of what is perceived to be a life-changing event. In the film, it's the transition from high school to college, a one last hurrah on a summer's eve. In Elysiana, it's the end of a turbulent decade, a transition, as it were, from one generation to another. It's an interesting departure for Knopf, one that readers will be glad he took.
Acknowledgment: The Permanent Press provided an ARC of Elysiana for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), January 2010
ISBN-13: 9780312551230; ISBN-10: 0312551231
Minotaur Books (Hardcover), February 2011
ISBN-13: 9780312551247; ISBN-10: 031255124X
Location(s) referenced in Elysiana: New Jersey
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Elysiana by Chris Knopf
Publisher: The Permanent Press
Publication Date: May 2010
List Price: $28.00