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The building collapse that opens Carla Buckley's INVISIBLE sets an appropriate tone for the entire novel. Sure, the event is carefully orchestrated and controlled, a deliberate implosion managed by Dana Carlson's jointly-owned demolition company. But, as Dana soon discovers to her horror when they learn that a woman has been trapped and killed in the blast, you can only control so much.

Reeling from this discovery as well as from the news that her sister Julie, from whom she's been estranged for more than 15 years, is seriously ill with kidney disease, Dana returns to the tiny town of Black Bear, Minnesota, in the hopes that she might be a match for a kidney donation. There, however, Dana realizes that she's too late --- Julie has just passed away, leaving behind a confused and lonely teenage daughter, Peyton, as well as her husband, Frank, whose past drinking problems surface again in the wake of his wife's death. The last thing these two grieving people wants is for Julie's sister, a virtual stranger to both of them, to swoop back in and try to make herself at home.

"Buckley does a masterful job of portraying a small community on the verge of crisis and a woman struggling to negotiate her past, her present, and her possible future."

But that's exactly what Dana does, especially when she uncovers evidence that Julie suspected that the unexplained kidney disease affecting her and several other townspeople is not merely a coincidence but rather the result of some kind of pollution or other environmental factors. Dana is determined not to let others in the town --- especially vulnerable Peyton --- suffer the same fate as Julie, so she vows to carry on Julie's investigation, no matter how unpopular this line of inquiry makes her.

As she attempts to reconnect with her roots, Dana is forced to confront the people she left behind when she vanished from Black Bear all those years ago, not to mention the reasons why she left in the first place. She soon discovers that going home again is not as easy as she once might have thought; some people have changed (not always for the better) while others are sadly, frustratingly, the same. Can Dana find her way back into the community and possibly save it at the same time?

Carla Buckley's new novel is both suspenseful and ambitious. Alternating chapters are told from Dana and Peyton's point of view: Dana's chapters frequently include vignettes from the past that illustrate her own secret history, while Peyton's include information on ocean life that thematically echoes her own struggles. Meanwhile, Dana is participating in a race against both time and public opinion. At times, the pacing of the novel is inconsistent --- the last 20 pages, in particular, seem to include too many plot points for the reader or the writer to accurately absorb. But Buckley does a masterful job of portraying a small community on the verge of crisis and a woman struggling to negotiate her past, her present, and her possible future.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 14, 2012

by Carla Buckley