In her debut novel Ex Utero, Laurie Foos tells the story of a woman who misplaces her uterus at a shopping mall, "somewhere between the shoe store and the lingerie counter." After her womb goes missing her husband feels utterly lost, and others are quick to deem her careless. While fantastical on the surface, it's also a striking commentary on the nature of feminism, desire and society's obsession with presumed gender roles.
The Blue Girl, Foos' sixth novel, continues in the same surrealist fashion as her previous work, but the world of questions it opens up is something else entirely. Set in a small lakeside town where the summer people flock to vacation, The Blue Girl is a charming and oftentimes beautiful book, told from the perspectives of Irene, Magda and Libby — and each of their 15-year-old daughters: six narrators with distinct points of view and their own personal brand of melancholy.
One day while swimming at the lake, Irene's fearless young Audrey saves a girl from drowning, a mysterious girl with blue skin and hair that looks like lightning bolts. No one knows where she came from, this girl, or that she'll soon make everything different, that she'll play such an integral part in all of their lives.
In time, the mothers, bored and wanting, begin baking moon pies and taking them to the blue girl, who's living in a house in the woods with an old woman for a caretaker. Inside these creamy treats lie their respective secrets and confessions, and the girl devours them all, one after the other, like some famished beast in the quiet dark of her room. Irene, Magda and Libby desire nothing more than real connection and a respite from the monotony that's taken over their daily lives. They long for their husbands — some of whom are unreliable and mentally unstable — and they long for the fire and excitement of the unknown. Present in all of them is a sense of dread and a muted despair brought on by the crippling limitations of domestic life. But they do have one another, and they have their silent friend who says nothing — and yet seems to speak all.
"We have to tell each other more than just stories about the kids or cooking or summer gossip," says Magda. "We have to say something about ourselves."
Foos uses the sweetness of moon pies to entice the reader, and also to wax poetic on the futility of misplaced desire — desire pent up, leading to emotional upheavals, secrets and the complications that inevitably arise from not baring it all to those closest to us.
What can make fiction truly powerful is often what the author chooses to leave out. Because Foos never tells us exactly what the blue girl represents, it's important to know that the answer is found in the silences. In the silences of these women, and in what we come to extract from their longing. Foos' prose has an ethereal quality as she describes the person in the woods, and the allure surrounding her always.
"I was sitting on the porch trying to hear the trees, but I was thinking of her, the girl in the bed, blue as a dream with her mouth full of wanting."
This novel is not so much a puzzle to be solved as it is an experience to be had. Something to be tasted and consumed, crumbs falling by the wayside along with our useless insecurities. Because in the end, it is not simply the stories we tell others, but the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves that make us who we are.
Juan Vidal is a writer and critic for NPR Books. He's on Twitter:@itsjuanlove.