It’s no surprise that Jaclyn Moriarty is an established writer of young adult literature. Billed as her adult debut, Gravity Is the Thing (HarperCollins) has the fresh, crinkling lilt of a storybook. Thirty-five-year-old Abi Sorensen, our story’s heroine, navigates love, loss, and the search for the meaning of life like a modern-day Alice in Wonderland.
Abi’s stream of consciousness alternates between childlike observations (when she sets her luggage down, she decides that it seems “content”) and grown-up solutions (when another character says she’d kill to have a different first name, Abi thinks to herself that she doesn’t have to kill someone; she could just get it done by a simple legal contract). As the story unfolds, things get more and more curious.
In fact, the whole conceit of Gravity is the Thing is completely unbelievable, but then Abi thinks so, too. However, if she can pack her bags and fly off to a remote island off the coast of Australia for an all-expenses-paid retreat where she’s been promised she’ll learn “The Truth,” then we can at least read about it.
The invitation came to Abi when she really needed it. That sometimes happens in our universe: We lose something; the world offers up something to replace it. In Abi’s case, she’s been needy for a very long time. Twenty years ago, her brother Robert disappeared without a trace. That same year, she started receiving random pages of a self-help book with instruction to complete certain “exercises” like:
- Seek out the following objects and inhale each deeply: vanilla, coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg, frangipani, roses, mint, glue, tar.
- Sign up for a wine appreciation class.
- Listen in on conversations.
- Run your hands under water.
- Learn French…
Sometimes she did as she was instructed; sometimes she didn’t (she didn’t smell the tar or the glue). But always, as instructed, she wrote her reflections about what she read and mailed them off to the writers of the self-help book – or, as it is called, The Guidebook.
For twenty years.
The rest of her life tumbled by. She endured high school crushes, had her heart broken and broke hearts, fell in love, got married, got divorced, had a baby named Oscar (don’t ask), abandoned her practice as a lawyer and started a cafe. Her brother remained gone. And then she gets the invitation to the weekend retreat.
Moriarty offers up the other characters with the same merry attitude that Lewis Carroll gives us the hookah-smoking caterpillar and the queen of hearts. There’s Flat-Cap Guy, Disgruntled Man, Redhead, and the Frangipani woman. There are others, of course, and we learn to love them all. We bounce around conversations, revelations, and disappointments with Abi until we’re as tangled up in the Guidebook’s impossible promises as she is.
Gravity is the Thing is filled with fancy and sadness with sweet Baby Oscar serving as a sort of anchor, a place to tie Abi’s kite string. As Abi muses near the end of the book, “…there will be cranky moments and quiet. Terrible things will happen in the news and moments of horror will tear into your life. Cars will turn corners, lights will come on… people will play chess and Candy Crush on their computers… Some days you will feel like a silverfish…” And finally, someone will ask, quite seriously, “Where is that bag of butterfly wings?”
This book is a joy and rush of fresh water for the soul.
Gravity is the Thing will be available for purchase July 23.
About Jaclyn Moriarty
Jaclyn grew up in Sydney with 4 sisters, 1 brother, 2 dogs, and 12 chickens. Then she became a full-time writer. She moved to Montreal for a few years but now lives in Sydney with her son, Charlie. Her sister is writer Liane Moriarty.