An epistolary novel written in notes left on the fridge door by 15 year old Claire, and Claire's Doctor Mom. To begin with, the notes reveal a fairly ordinary domestic reality in a household with a teenage girl and a single parent. They are ships that pass in the night- money left on the counter for Claire to get some groceries on her way home from school. I'm babysitting tonight see you tomorrow. Sorry I forgot about your presentation, hope it went well. Let's do something Saturday. We never see each other anymore. I can't do Saturday, when will you be home. It's sad to see people that obviously love and care for each other take each other for granted and fail to make time to do things as often as they could. But life gets in the way.
The notes reveal the fluctuations in the characters' moods- Claire guilt trips her absent Mom, Mom gets mad about it, they make up. They're frustrated at not seeing much of each other, variously blaming themselves and each other for their failure to catch up. They think about themselves, they think about each other. They apologise, they grab a few hours together, a film or breakfast, and it's enough for now. It's not ideal, but the reader really gets a sense of these characters and how they live. The characters are really brilliantly crafted and both Claire and Mom are absolutely alive through their notes, their personalities poured onto those little scraps of paper. Things happen away from the page that are alluded to but obviously don't make it into the notes, which makes everything feel more realistic. Time passes, but the notes are all we have. It's enough. It's surprising how effectively the notes create a picture of these people's lives, like using historical artifacts to piece together life in the past. A small amount of information gives a lot away.
When Claire's mom gets a devastating diagnosis (Doctors make the worst patients) the notes carry on, but the way both characters handle their new reality is different- each seems determined to deal with it in their own way. They don't communicate, they irritate one another with their perceived selfishness or irritability. They try too hard or don't try hard enough. Claire and her Mom are both a bit guilty of trying to do the right thing but making it worse. There's still scraps of that old domesticity; Clean the Rabbit out. Buy milk and bread. James called. But it's interspersed with note-based evidence of two independent women trying to deal with a horrible situation alone.
In a lot of ways it's quite frustrating to read about two people handling something so badly- cycles of resentment, sadness, making up, shutting each other out and letting each other in. Trying to balance Dealing With Things with Getting On With Life. The book really makes it clear that there is no good, no right way of dealing with grief, anger and bad luck and that sometimes you are not in control. It's awful to read their dawning realisation of what the future holds, their hope and their attempts to get to know each other properly. All that wasted time.
It really is a fascinating format and a brilliant study of two characters that the reader never really sees. We know everything about these characters' lives, but have never technically met them or even overhead a conversation. It creates the same feeling as Instagram stalking, or being really into a celebrity or whatever. You know everything about them based on the trail of information that they have left behind them without ever being face to face. It's a fascinating format, done to perfection.