By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: New York Times,September 21, 2009
Audrey Niffenegger’s wildly successful first novel, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (recently turned into a movie), used an old sci-fi device as a springboard for a high-flying meditation on the uncertainties and dislocations of life. In recounting the story of Henry, an involuntary time traveler, and his wife, Clare — who patiently waits for him to return home from his Odysseus-like wanderings through the calendar — Ms. Niffenegger not only conjured two memorable characters, but also created an affecting story about the magical ability of love to transcend time.
Author pic - Stephen DeSantis
Whereas “The Time Traveler’s Wife” simply used the premise of time travel as a device to look at a couple’s efforts to sustain their love through all sorts of trials and tribulations, “Symmetry” buys into the literary and cinematic ghost story genre whole hog, embracing all of its best-known traditions, no matter how hokey or contrived. The novel’s got a haunted house (well, a haunted apartment), a creepy cemetery, a family with a bizarre secret in its past and two naïve young women at the mercy of unearthly forces. True to form, the familiar daylight world of contemporary life is penetrated by a spirit from the great beyond, while the obvious Freudian implications of haunting and being haunted are dutifully explicated and explored.
As it turns out, “Symmetry” is a highly symmetrical novel built around the architecture of two pairs of twins and two sets of relationship triangles. Elspeth and Edie are the first twins: Elspeth, who lives in London, has a passionate relationship with a younger man named Robert, while Edie, who’s moved to America, has a husband named Jack and twin daughters named Valentina and Julia, who have dropped out of college. Elspeth, who dies of cancer, bequeaths her London apartment to her two nieces, but continues to haunt the flat, communicating with the girls and Robert via a Ouija board.