I picked up Kathleen Tessaro’s winning novel Innocence after being drawn in by the cover immediately — so classic, so beautiful! I wasn’t entirely sure how the iconic cover art would correspond to the novel, but I didn’t care: I was going for it.
Innocence is the story of Evie Garlick, a young woman who moves from Ohio to London to try and carve out a place for herself in theatrical world. She shares a room in the city with naive, tender-hearted Imogene and spirited New Yorker Robbie, all transplant actresses also attending her drama school — and growing up quickly in the process. Evie is a little “innocent,” of course — she arrives with a lot of preconceived notions about how her life is going to play out, including an eventual marriage to a small-town boy from back home. None of that quite works out, of course: Evie falls in love with a bohemian musician and drug addict and quickly finds herself having to make difficult choices. Love isn’t ever really enough — or is it?
Evie narrates the entire story, but we’re transplanted from the past to the present in each individual chapter. The novel plays out a bit like a play: we’re introduced to the principle cast in the beginning, go on small adventures with them, get a strong look at Evie’s life in the “present”: she’s now a drama teacher with a four-year-old son, Alex; she rents a room from Bunny, a benevolent older woman with a great appreciation for the arts; she shares a strange, sexually-charged friendship with pianist Piotr, but refuses to open up to him. Imogen, Robbie and Jake are all nowhere to found in this new world — it’s Evie and Alex against the world.
There’s an entire other subcontext in Innocence that appears pretty much from the get-go: Robbie, killed years earlier in a car accident in New York City, begins to appear before Evie’s own eyes, drinking tea, taunting her and imploring her to reevaluate her life. Evie begins to sort of accept Robbie’s “haunting” as a fact of life, though not one she much enjoys. She dishes all of her grief right back at her old best friend, trying to largely ignore Robbie’s attempts to get Evie to see what she gave up for her new life — and why.
The book, to me, was good — I was immediately drawn into the story, falling in step with Evie as she traverses London for the first time. As I constantly harp on about, I’m in love with England. I had no trouble at all jumping into the city and Imo, Robbie and Evie’s cramped, dirty apartment.
Innocence kept me interested and intrigued, wanting to watch Evie release the past, give herself permission to be happy and successful in the present and open up the heart she’d so long ago snapped shut. Robbie was a fascinating character absolutely full of surprises — and the biggest ones come at the end of the tale. It didn’t really bother me that we were supposed to believe Robbie was “appearing” to Evie from, I suppose, purgatory; it seemed oddly realistic and all right with me.
Tessaro’s writing is vivid and smooth; there’s no choppy prose here. Each individual character is fleshed out and realistic, an absolute must for me as a reader. Overall, Innocence lived up to my high expectations after viewing the cover art! I’m passing it on to my sister next!