Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Review: Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi

Peaces felt very much like a book for the thirty-something millennial. You’ve had time to form a few different close-knit friend groups, then watch knots loosen or unravel. I think it’s natural for friendships to come and go in your life, as you and your friends grow along different paths or move to different places. Peaces presented the opposite philosophy: that there is a dumpee (forgotten, pitiable) and a dumper (unmoved, oblivious to the feelings of their friend) in these waning friendships.

Have you ever had an almost offensively easy breakup? The kind where the person you’ve just broken ties with because of blah blah and blah gives you a slight shrug, a “Thanks for everything—especially your honesty,” then walks away whistling Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well”? Or has that been you—the low-key dumpee? I’ve never once taken it on the chin like that, never even thought of trying to.

The fascinating mystery at the heart of the labyrinth of this book is whether Premysl, the son of the a benefactor, exists. To most characters, he appears as a completely normal, if rather socially awkward, young man. To the heiress, Ava Kapoor, he is completely unobservable – the reader can’t help but wonder if her friends are gaslighting her? We wind through the memories of the eccentric cast of characters, seeing Premysl and Ava through all sorts of perspectives, and eventually discover that our narrator, Otto, has a few Premysl-like ghosts (ex-boyfriends and a chance acquaintance) in his own past. These ghosts, these unseen friends (or rather, un-seen friends), manifest in the form of the villain of our tale, who holds the passengers of The Lucky Day hostage and gives a lackluster monologue about being discarded.

“We’re trying to support each other,” Yuri said. “Trying to get back into the game. Together. So don’t ask me for my fucking surname. I’m here for Prem and Raúl and Tolay and the stories of their unseeing, which you will not be told now or ever. Because with people like you it goes in one ear and out the other until it actually happens to you. Then you’ll be googling for support groups and everything else. ”


“Well, really, you’ve kept each other here, with your eagerness to form a clique of people something out of the ordinary is happening to. Mundane jobs and Instagrammable honeymoons? Oh no, not for us. We’re the passengers of The Lucky Day

As The Lucky Day pulls into the last train station, Ava Kapoor ceases to be able to see or hear all but one of the other passengers. The vanishing of her friends is of trivial concern. The vanished friends take it surprisingly on the chin, for the most part.

This metaphor for friendship feels alien to me. Reuniting with friends from former days feels more like putting on a song I used to love but haven’t heard in a decade, and less like putting on a song and hearing only silence. 

I went into this book hoping for a modern fairy tale version of Murder on the Orient Express meets Jane Eyre meets Piranesi. And it was exactly that, I suppose. It had a claustrophobic train setting begging to be explored. The cast of characters included wealthy benefactors and heiresses and people with unusual occupations, and people that might exist or might simply be figments of imagination. The narrator was unreliable. The mood was dark but whimsical. Packed with everything I wanted but strangely empty inside.

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