Parker Santé is, as he puts it, dumb but not stupid. He hasn’t spoken a word since he was injured in a car accident that took his father’s life five years before the book opens. He hasn’t done much else, either; he skips school most days and hangs around ritzy San Francisco hotels, stealing from the rich people who stay there.
One Halloween, he steals an enormous wad of bills from a “perfectly sad” girl with silver hair who has left her purse in the Palace Hotel dining room. She’s so beautiful that his conscience upbraids him, and as he runs off, he makes what his father taught him was the major human mistake: he looks back. And there is the girl, reading the story he became absorbed in writing as he kept his eye on her, in his journal, which has his name and address in it.
Her name is Zelda Toft, and she’s wonderfully, mysteriously intelligent. Within a few moments of their meeting, he’s falling in love.
But this is not, as he writes at the end, “a story of love triumphing over all or one where the boy gets the girl.” Part of it is a meditation on the power of the past to keep people from looking forward; and Zelda pulls Parker and his alcoholic mother out of the idealized past they’ve constructed around Parker’s difficult, talented father. The other part, unexpectedly, is an extended reflection on immortality. Beautiful, charming Zelda has “a condition” that prevents her from aging – for centuries. She tells Parker she was born in 1770, but he thinks she’s spoofing him, until, after spending a weekend in her sophisticated, often-sad company, he realizes she isn’t.
There are many themes in this wonderfully-written book. The prose sparkles. The stories Parker writes are fantastic in every sense of the word.
Zelda is a fairytale character who finds her way into the hearts of Parker and the chess club friend he didn’t realize he had.
The reflections on immortality and the losses it inflicts on people who are immortal in a world where the people they love can’t be are thought-provoking.
I was enchanted until the last 15 pages, whose implications left me deeply disturbed, but a glance at other reviews has told me that most people have no problem with it.
Read it and see. It’s a very interesting book, and Zelda is a character you’ll never forget.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.