‘The Mirror’ by Marlys Millhiser

The Mirror

★★★

Milhiser presents us with the most screwed up family situation I have ever come across in fiction! And that says something, because there are some weird family dynamics out there – but the outshines them all. I mean, have you ever heard of a girl that marries her own grandfather and gives birth to her own mother?

The Mirror begins in the late 1970s with Shay. She seems to have a pretty normal family; Dad is a lawyer, Mum a writer, they live happily in a house that has belonged to the family for generations. On the night before Shay’s wedding, she looks into a large, old mirror and then, inexplicably, she has travelled 70 years back into the past! She is still in the same house, but she has never seen the people that live there before, although they seem to know her! After some confusion, it becomes clear to Shay that she travelled back in time, entered the body of her grandmother Bran, and it is the night before Bran’s wedding. Naturally, Shay hopes this is a nightmare, but it is a nightmare that lasts for a very long time – decades in fact!

She is forced to move with her new husband to a mining camp and tries to create a life for herself in a time that is not her own amongst strangers. She live with the horrible knowledge of what will happen to Bran/herself as she grows old, but she does not know the details of her grandmother’s life and there are some things she cannot understand. For instance, she knows that her new husband is not Shay’s mother’s father – so where is her grandad? Shay/Bran does try to go back through the mirror, but nothing happens. And soon she become frightened of it, as the mirror seems equally able of killing as it is of transporting people through time. Her life becomes even stranger as she gives birth to her own uncles and develops a very strained relationship with her own daughter/mother.

I really felt for Shay’s daughter/mother. Rachel and her brothers interpret her their mother’s strangeness (predictions about the future, periods of irrational anger towards them) as mental illness. And little Rachel always craves a closer relationship with her mother, but she keeps the girl at a distance most of the time and intermittently crushes the child with oppressive decelerations of love. Rachel never quite knows how to reach out to her mother, and then her daughter suddenly becomes schizophrenic on the eve her wedding. Her daughter says her name is Bran and not Shay.

As Shay travels back to Bran’s life, Bran travels forwards to Shay. She deals with the change not as well than her granddaughter! Which is understandable considering that the past is a much less unknown country than the future! 1970s gender roles, technology and costumes are terrifying and alien the Bran. And she is horrified when she discovers that she is pregnant and unmarried. Bran has never had sex before!

It is towards the end that the book becomes a bit of a let down. The loose threads are wrapped up very quickly and conveniently. Too quickly! And what is otherwise a very good book does not get the ending it deserves and it left me unsatisfied. But it is still worth the reading, as the characters are well drawn and the language is natural and unpretentious.

And the plot is great! These three women, Shay, Rachel and Bran, must figure out a way to live their lives, whilst mourning the normal family dynamics they always wanted. And throughout these three lives the mirror plays a role – it displaces them and it takes their loved ones from them.

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