What if it were you? What if it was your mother— the woman you spent every day looking up to, confused by, but adored at the same time? Who filled her pockets with zircon stones and waded herself into a nearby river, ending her life? I couldn’t even imagine, and because of that, I knew I had to read Torontonian Grace O’Connell’s debut novel, MAGNIFIED WORLD.
I wouldn’t say that Maggie Pierce feels like her whole world is shattered after her mother’s suicide. Instead, I would say, that all the things she tended to overlook suddenly stood out. It took Carol Pierce’s death to make Maggie realize that she may not have actually known her mother— at least, not the way she thought. In fact, how well does she know her father, or even herself? While dealing with a grief that feels more like a numbness than a sadness, Maggie begins to have blackouts; moments where she opens her eyes to a completely new setting with no idea how she got there. Instructed by her therapist to begin writing in a journal, while simultaneously going through her mother’s belongings in their home above their family store of New Age and organic products, Maggie begins to write her memories of her mother.
And then there is Gil. After Carol Pierce’s death, Maggie begins to receive cards of condolences from a stranger named Gil. His cards are directed at Maggie as though they were long-time friends and gives her an odd sense of comfort. When he finally appears, claiming to both know the cure for her blackouts and to be writing a book about her family, Gil becomes a mysterious figure that Maggie cannot leave alone.
MAGNIFIED WORLD is a force. O’Connell’s writing is a fearless exploration of the darkest corners of the human mind and memory, as well as a celebration of the sensational moments that make us grow. It contains a tangibility that allowed me to close my eyes and feel the shelves of the family store, Pierce Gifts and Oddities. I’m not afraid to admit that I went through this whole novel with a pencil in hand, underlining something on every second page, because I was so taken by the raw beauty in Grace O’Connell’s words. Such simple and soft-sounding sentences carried extensive symbolic weight. In particular, I loved this small passage:
In the store, she would sit silently reading her own spreads over and over, occasionally getting up to round the store, touching this polished stone or that silk scarf, as if she never got sick of something being only beautiful.
Just to pick out one quote for this review was difficult. The descriptions of Carol, her erratic behaviour and complex relationship with Maggie stunned me. I was reminded a bit of Ingrid in Janet Finch’s WHITE OLEANDER, who, like Carol, never fully understood her daughter. Both women were haunted by ghosts of their pasts, plagued by mental instability, and struggled to be parents when perhaps emotionally, they were never ready. O’Connell’s handling of such a delicate and intricate relationship was masterful.
I relished in all of the descriptions of Toronto, as O’Connell skillfully put the spirit of the city onto paper. However, my absolute favourite line in the novel, and perhaps the line that wraps up this entire story for me, occurs when Maggie begins to fear the accuracy of her memory:
I wrote things down to keep them safe.
Powerful and haunting, MAGNIFIED WORLD exists in a realm of its own. I greatly anticipate the future career of Grace O’Connell and must admit that I am very glad she decided to keep these stunning words safe, by writing them down.