Review: “Passersthrough”, by Peter Rock

Like Peter Rock’s previous 10 works of fiction, his new novel blends characters who live on the fringes of society with those of the mainstream. His best-known book, “My Abandonment” (later adapted into a film titled “Leave No Trace”), followed a father and daughter whose choice to live outside caused them hardship. And his recent “The Night Swimmers” blended memoir with fiction in a meditative and provocative recollection of a lifetime. Each of them had moments of mystery, but each had gripping tales from start to finish.

Her latest novel, “Passersthrough,” despite its promising start, unfolds in a strange, supernatural environment that never seems clearly resolved. “Passersthrough” begins with an audio capture transcript between Helen Hanson, a 36-year-old Californian woman, and her 76-year-old father, Benjamin, who lives in Oregon. Helen’s mother died a few months earlier and among her effects Helen found 11 birthday cards addressed to Helen by her father, opened but held back by her mother.

This discovery led her to mend a relationship with her father that had crumbled 25 years earlier after they went camping together near Mount Rainier. To facilitate this, she installed a recording device in her father’s house so that he could answer questions she faxed to him. This need to communicate indirectly was due to Helen’s emotional fragility caused, it seems, by something her father might have done on that fateful trip.

During this camping excursion, we learn that 11-year-old Helen suddenly disappeared for almost a week before being discovered in a cabin over 100 miles from where her father reported her missing. . Although there is no evidence of foul play, Helen moved in with her mother as her parents had separated shortly before this incident, likely due to another family trauma: the death of the younger brother of Helen a year earlier.

The following could be an explanation of what happened between Benjamin and his daughter many years ago, but it is uncertain. By coincidence, Benjamin is drawn into a small group of characters who connect with the dead but who mostly have no connection to the death of his son or the disappearance of his daughter. Among other strange encounters, he visits a place known as the Murder House and another place called Sad Clown Lake, which travels to different locations, a lake where the bones of children from the Murder House have surfaced for talk to Benjamin.

It is possible that “Passersthrough” concerns memories related to extrasensory perceptions rarely felt but present in some trauma victims. But then again, that may not be the case. In the end, the reader has no clearer idea than Benjamin of what happened to his children more than two decades earlier. And maybe that’s what Peter Rock wants. Uncertainties and mysteries always surround death and disappearances. And while we may hope to find answers in stories and in life, that’s not always what happens.

Jim Carmin is a writer in Portland, Oregon.

Passers-by

By: Pierre Rock.

Publisher: Soho Press, 233 pages; $26.

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