What makes a life worth trying to save? Do our genes determine our identity? When should we give up on a dream? These are the complex moral and medical questions woven into the heart of GEMINI, Carol Cassella’s latest gripping novel, following OXYGEN and HEALER.
In her late 30s, Charlotte Reese is a busy doctor from a family of physicians, cautiously nurturing a relationship with Eric, a science writer. Working in the intensive care unit, she zealously guards against attachment to any of her patients: “She’d been in this job long enough to know it did no one any good --- not the family, not the patient, and certainly not herself.” Yet the most recent ICU arrival, an unidentified woman about her age airlifted in from the peninsula, tests her resolve to simply do the best she can medically and leave all the questions and concern in the ICU. It appears she was the victim of a hit and run, but lost consciousness at the rural hospital before they identified her. Now the patient is still comatose, but is she brain dead? Who is this woman they call Jane Doe? Why doesn’t anyone claim her, even when her story is publicized? And if no one claims her, who will decide how long --- or even whether --- she should be kept alive?
"I think the alternating-points-of-view-chapters device has been overdone in some recent works of fiction, but Cassella gets it right. We read along, anticipating the solution of juicy mysteries and dilemmas, suspecting from the tone that not everyone can live happily ever after."
Alternating chapters are told from the viewpoint of Raney, a tough girl from the tiny peninsula town of Quentin, growing up under the care of her irascible grandfather. Long before Charlotte finds out that Raney is Jane Doe, we are fully engaged in her story, too, abandoned by her wild and headstrong mother and making friends with Bo, a gangly city kid with his own troubled history. The two adolescents bond through testing each other, tricking each other, daring each other, and roaming the cliffs , woods and beaches surrounding the tiny town. Each time Bo leaves, he disappears from her life totally --- no phone calls, no letters --- but his own complicated family matters keep him coming back to stay with his aunt and uncle.
As Charlotte and Raney’s stories move toward their anticipated intersection, the plot twists and turns are surprising but believable. Cassella makes us care about these characters, with her nuanced descriptions of their inner landscapes as well as evocative details of their outward lives. Here’s Raney, remembering the last time she saw her mother at age six: “For the rest of the time Raney would catch a scent of Jean Nate perfume or clove cigarettes, or the mustiness of an old canvas tent, the metallic tang of a Greyhound bus windowsill, and be emptied of gravity and grounding by the rogue wave of an emotion she could not name.” Another example is Charlotte’s thoughts about the questionable odds of a pleasant marriage following her pre-Eric boyfriend: “After Ricky, though, Charlotte felt done with all the effort it took to get there --- a bit like sailing: fighting against the wind only to turn around and land at the same place you started except older, sunburned or shivering, and with a lot less money.”
It would be a shame to reveal too much of the intriguing plot of this fine novel. I think the alternating-points-of-view-chapters device has been overdone in some recent works of fiction, but Cassella gets it right. We read along, anticipating the solution of juicy mysteries and dilemmas, suspecting from the tone that not everyone can live happily ever after. I highly recommend it!
Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on March 7, 2014