Publishers Weekly: Starred Review, The Reconstruction

June 9, 2011

November 11, 1996

In her richly suggestive and assured debut novel, Canadian writer Casper takes on the daunting task of depicting emotional loss, historicity and anatomical restoration—and she acquits herself with distinction. Sculptor Margaret Fisher slips into a protective cocoon of listless sleep and lurid dreams when her marriage of 10 years breaks up. The dangerous depth of her loss, she realizes, arises less from the departure of her husband than from the disturbing realization that the union had been loveless and shored up only by comfort and inertia. Financially and emotionally shaken (and plagued by extensive emergency dental work), Margaret plunges into a new project for a display of primitive humanity at the National Museum, the full-body reconstruction of an Australopithecus afarensis, based on the famous fossil “Lucy.” She draws her inspiration from the fossilized footprints of male and female hominids that were embedded in volcanic ash over three million years ago in Africa. A slight twist in the female’s gait suggests that she hesitated in order to look over her shoulder—at what we will never be sure—before being crushed by the volcanic eruption. In a dreamlike, intense state of waking dreams and reveries, isolation and reflection, Margaret begins to feel the stirrings of Lucy’s primordial steps within herself. Her slow reconstruction of the model brings unexpected questions and truths to light. Casper avoids easy answers and writes bravely about our need to place ourselves in history in order to make sense of our existence.