An individual’s story is never contained to a single person. The examination of a life is the appraisal of a place, a time, a culture. No matter the isolation of a character, every life permeates its surroundings, and more importantly, the other lives brushing up against it. This contemplation of relationships — large and small, loving and toxic — sparks Carol Cassella’s new novel, Gemini (Simon & Schuster).
Within the first two chapters, we’re introduced to the primary set of narrators. First comes Charlotte, a physician in a Seattle intensive care unit who receives an anonymous new patient from the rural Washington coast. Her Jane Doe was struck by a car and has rapidly deteriorated. The circumstances surrounding the patient's background become increasingly curious as no one files a missing person’s report. The point of view then flips to Raney, an adolescent girl from a tiny Washington coastal town, who begins narrating the tale of befriending a visiting boy during summer vacation. With hints Cassella drops, it doesn’t take Charlotte’s level of post-doctorate study for the reader to deduce that Charlotte and Raney are connected.
What kept me guessing throughout the book was the unreliable narration, reminiscent of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl — minus the homicide. As Charlotte and Raney’s stories are recounted in turns, I felt as though they were each holding back, keeping close the truth of their identities and motivations. I flipped pages anxious to untangle the linked-up lives and lies before the characters arrived upon them. The more the story developed, the deeper the chance connections became, drawing in Charlotte’s boyfriend, Raney’s childhood friend and eventual love, a son, and dying father.
The heart of the novel evolves from the crossroads at which Charlotte, Raney, and Jane Doe intersect. Jane and Raney are past stories unfolding, fascinating but static. Charlotte is the woman shouldering fate, the one whose heart and mind can still be changed. Where must she draw the line between the duty to save a life and the mercy of letting one go? What training and expertise can prepare someone to judge the value of someone else's existence? The dilemmas encroach on Charlotte's personal life as well, as her relationship stands between a logical end and a leap of blind faith. While she chases down the answers for her Jane Doe, Charlotte can’t escape the most difficult, urgent question of all: What does she want out of the brief, precious life she’s been granted?
Cassella writes with urgency and precision, crafting a classic mystery’s tension that keeps readers sleepless over the next development. Fortunately, her exacting style does not come at the cost of lush prose. Her salty, gray-streaked rendering of the Pacific Northwest (and perchance for female characters possessing Herculean strength) evoked the dreamy feel of Ilie Ruby’s lovely The Salt God’s Daughter . The world of Charlotte and Raney felt dreamy and mythic, yet as ordinary as the craggy sand beneath their feet.
In the end, Gemini is not about a patient or a doctor or a child or a patient. It is about the totality of love as a force against chance and circumstance, and the enigmatic ways that power endures. The mystery and serendipity are well worth the journey.