The Possessions- Sara Flannery Murphy
In this electrifying literary debut, a young woman who channels the dead for a living crosses a dangerous line when she falls in love with one of her clients, whose wife died under mysterious circumstances
In an unnamed city, Eurydice works for the Elysian Society, a private service that allows grieving clients to reconnect with lost loved ones. She and her fellow workers, known as “bodies“, wear the discarded belongings of the dead and swallow pills called lotuses to summon their spirits—numbing their own minds and losing themselves in the process. Edie has been a body at the Elysian Society for five years, an unusual record. Her success is the result of careful detachment: she seeks refuge in the lotuses’ anesthetic effects and distances herself from making personal connections with her clients.
But when Edie channels Sylvia, the dead wife of recent widower Patrick Braddock, she becomes obsessed with the glamorous couple. Despite the murky circumstances surrounding Sylvia’s drowning, Edie breaks her own rules and pursues Patrick, moving deeper into his life and summoning Sylvia outside the Elysian Society’s walls.
After years of hiding beneath the lotuses’ dulling effect, Edie discovers that the lines between her own desires and those of Sylvia have begun to blur, and takes increasing risks to keep Patrick within her grasp. Suddenly, she finds her quiet life unraveling as she grapples not only with Sylvia’s growing influence and the questions surrounding her death, but with her own long-buried secrets.
A tale of desire and obsession, deceit and dark secrets that defies easy categorization, The Possessions is a seductive, absorbing page-turner that builds to a shattering, unforgettable conclusion.
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My Review - 4 Stars
From the very first chapter, this book drew me in. I wanted to know what was happening. Murphy spills out the plot sparingly, keeping the reader guessing about everything from Edie's past to what's really happening at the Elysian Society.
There's a haunting, dreamy quality throughout. We see everything from Edie's perspective and it's as if she's under water, viewing life in a muted manner. We know Edie has worked at the Elysian Society for 5 years, she's a rule follower, and she keeps to herself. It's a half life because of something that happened in her past. She'd rather disappear into work as a body.
I still don't know what to make of the Elysian Society. The workers are known as bodies and clients come to speak- literally- to their deceased loved ones. It's similar, I'd guess, to using a medium, except there's more of an inhabitation for the duration of the session. The bodies are simply vessels. They take a pill called a lotus and they recess as the deceased person takes over until the lotus wears off 30 minutes later. They do not know what the deceased person is saying or how the client responds. At least, most of the time, as we learn things can go very wrong. As you might imagine, the work isn't for everyone and Edie is held up as an example, both positive and negative, for lasting this long.
Everything changes when Patrick Braddock comes in as a client. For whatever reason, Edie is captivated by his dead wife Sylvia. There's something about Patrick that affects her differently from other clients and she cannot separate out Sylvia's desires from her own. After so many years of disappearing into her work, Edie's change in behavior raised a lot of questions. Was it simply the end result of denying her past? Was there something more between Edie and Patrick? Would Edie come clean with him about whatever she'd done?
As Edie takes more risks and meets Patrick outside of work, her focus is ever more on what happened to Sylvia.I have a feeling I'll think back on Edie and Patrick for some time to come. Their relationship was not really their own, given the ready presence of Sylvia, and I wonder what might have been had Edie been able to be more fully present in her own life. I guessed correctly about this fairly early on but I enjoyed seeing how the plot came together. Despite her flaws, I felt like Edie was an honest narrator and it was harder to suss out who of the limited people in her life was worthy of being trusted. This made it a hard book to put down.
The book also raises interesting questions about grief. Is it healthy for people to speak with their dead loved one years after they've gone? What affect does this have on the deceased to become aware of inhabiting a body that's not their own? There are a few different plot lines that examine these questions to great affect.
The writing was incredible. There were lines like, "Tissues extend upward like static smoke" and "envelopes flaking onto the floor" that have stuck with me. The plot was original and gripping. I don't know the last time I encountered a novel like this.
The book ends with some hope but it's a larger reflection on what happens when we cannot accept the blows life gives us and when we choose to retreat instead of fully live. And that's worth reflecting on.
(I was happy to see this was one of the February selections for Book Of The Month Club. I think you'll be pleased if you picked it!)
About Sara Flannery Murphy
Sara Flannery Murphy grew up in Arkansas, where she divided her time between Little Rock and Eureka Springs, a small artists’ community in the Ozark Mountains. She received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis and studied library science in British Columbia. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and son. The Possessions is her first novel.
Disclosure: I received an ARC from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.