Moorefield House Publishing
|Posted on June 22, 2017 at 8:15 PM|
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Reviewed by Jacob Hammer
This time I was drawn to the book not by the cover but just by its title. It’s the same as one of my favorite albums by one of my favorite bands, Iron and Wine. So I picked it up and decided to read it on a whim and the positive association of its title with one of my favorite albums.
I found in the pages a complex and engaging book that I read in huge chunks at a time because I simply didn’t want to put it down. Throughout the book, we have to question what has really happened and what is a patch or alteration created by the protagonist as a means of survival. This kept me eager to move between the carefully spaced memories and current timeline so that I could discover the reality among the dazzling and dark memories.
The book opens with the narrator, Peggy, in the present of the novel in London. She is in her mother’s home and adjusting to the civilized world as best she can. This immediately grips you because you have to wonder why she has so much adjusting to do, where she’s been. Chapter 2 begins to dig into the meat of these questions. We are introduced to Peggy’s father, James, who is a disaster prepper and meets with a group of his friends in the house regularly. There is palpable tension between Peggy’s mother, Ute, who is a famous concert pianist over these meetings and her father’s endless lists of supplies, but since we are viewing through Peggy’s recollections of her childhood, things are not as clear as they could be. Tensions mount further until Ute leaves for a mainland European tour leaving Peggy with James for some time. James decides to take Peggy and run to the wilderness to avoid the doom he sees as impending and the danger he feels will be imminent in the cities. Peggy is only eight at this time and has no reason to doubt her father as they struggle through the wilderness eventually arriving at die Hutte. Die Hutte is actually a very run-down cabin with almost no supplies in it, but they make the best of it. James even fashions a make-shift and soundless piano on half of their table and teaches Peggy to play it and read music. There is a large storm soon after they have finally settled in and James tells Peggy that the rest of the world has been destroyed, they are the only people left, and that she cannot pass the boundaries he describes or she will fall into oblivion. Eight year old Peggy believes him with the total and fearful belief of a child. Their first winter is hard, but they adapt and prepare better the next year. Several years pass this way.
One day alone in the woods, Peggy sees signs of another person. She has trouble reconciling the difference between what her dad has told her and this conflicting evidence and at first she is very afraid of this stranger. As James seems to lose his grip on reality more obviously and more often (he even begins calling her Ute sometimes), Peggy begins to trust this stranger, Reuben, and eventually she spends all of her free time with him. They become lovers. James decides Peggy and he should eat poisonous mushrooms and end their lives in die Hutte, but Reuben pleads with Peggy to run away with him instead. James tries to stop them and threatens them with a knife as they try to run away and James is fatally wounded in the scuffle by Reuben before Peggy and Reuben run away into the forest. They become separated in their hurry, but Peggy makes her way to civilization again, nearly dead by the time she finds help. Ute is finally reunited with her long lost daughter and they begin trying to rebuild their lives and her memory.
Throughout this whole stream of events, we are brought back out of these recollections and to
Peggy in Ute’s home as she tries to get along with a brother she never knew she had and a mother who has become a stranger to her. She has been in therapy to try to recover memories that have become blurred or distorted and reflects on the past as she moves through her day and eventually prepares to meet some of her friends she has not seen for nine years. When they come over and she is talking with them, it is revealed that she is pregnant and that, though the police searched, they never found Reuben or any other camp in the area except the one her father and she lived at. Her fingerprints are the only ones on the axe that killed her father. Reuben was never real. Peggy seems to be at peace with this realization despite all the complications that it creates for her and for her newfound family.
What makes this book so intriguing is how you as the reader are discovering the truth of what happened throughout the book as Peggy does herself. In the first chapter we have a pretty good idea what happened and we know that Peggy is safe now with Ute and not lost in the wilderness, yet there is still suspense because we wonder how she ended up back in civilization. We wonder about what happened and what did not happen because we know that Peggy has memory issues due to her experiences. Early on we are cued to look for discrepancies because Peggy speaks to her doll very personally and her early memories feel dreamy. As we go along, the memories become clearer in detail, but still have an aura of fabrication about them that is hard to put your finger on. When we finally learn that Reuben was a total fabrication it comes as a surprise, but it also makes total sense for Peggy to create a salvific character like Reuben in her situation. In the end, that fabrication gives her the motivation to go against her father’s demand that they both drink poison and the bravery to cross the river and make her way back to civilization. So much happens to Peggy in the book. The lies and abuse from her father are horrible even through the distorted lens of Peggy’s memory, but in the face of this we see Peggy a strong girl who was able to make it through all of that and will be able to make it through everything she has to face in the future.