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Summary • Buy

Clarissa Brimsley is long dead, but she still has work to do. Her job is to understand fully the effect her brief life had on those left behind.

Clarissa can visit the past. She can watch the present unfold. She knows exactly what her subjects think. She has perfect understanding of all the dead who occupy this netherworld with her. But the future is as unknown to her as to anyone else. She has no ability to communicate with the living, or to alter the course of events.

Her subject is her mother, Audrey. Sixty years after the fact, Audrey is still trying to make peace with the idea that she killed Clarissa in what was not entirely an accident in the home. She has never moved from the once-splendid house, now fallen into ruin, where Clarissa died. She has never truly stopped thinking of the girl.

After Audrey falls and breaks a hip, her sons ship her off to a nursing home. They sell the house to a young couple that intends to fix it, sell it, buy another and build a fortune. Those plans get derailed when the woman of the house, an artist named Mag, senses that the house is speaking to her. She finds a trunk of abandoned photo albums, filled with pictures of Audrey and Clarissa. In those photos Mag imagines a path to the future, albeit one based on imperfect information. She resolves to make herself as happy as Audrey seems to be in the long-forgotten collection of photographs. She will have a child of her own.

Mag learns more of the truth about Audrey and Clarissa, but only after she is pregnant. Her efforts to ensure the safety of her child lead her into a complex relationship with Audrey. The old woman’s attempt to help Mag is heroic, certainly emphatic, but complicated in the end by unintended consequences and an unexpected choice.