Review: Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty

by Bridget Bradshaw on June 22, 2019

Gravity is the Thing is a novel by Jaclyn Moriarty that follows Abi Sorenson, a woman whose life changes drastically on the days preceding her sixteenth birthday for two reasons. The first is that her brother and closest confidant, Robert, disappears. The second is that she receives the first of many chapters from The Guidebook, an enigmatic self-help book. The authors of The Guidebook continue to send her chapters throughout her life until one day she is invited on a retreat to find out the truth behind its mystery. When she goes, she meets a cast of characters, some intriguing and some forgettable, who have also been receiving The Guidebook. It is from there that our heroine then takes on untangling the literal and metaphorical in the often nonsensical words of The Guidebook authors. The story unfolds in short chapters interspersed by selected chapters of The Guidebook and ‘reflections’ from years past that The Guidebook told Abi to write, pulling the focus to significant points in Abi’s life.

Abi herself is a bland contrast to the intriguing plot. For example, 15-year-old-Abi and full-grown-adult-Abi sound exactly the same, despite having two decades between them. The snap judgements and self-centered conclusions that you would expect out of a teenager, but not a 35-year-old woman. Abi possesses a naivety that alternates between endearing and irritating. Throughout the book she approaches situations in her life as if they make no sense at all, despite being commonplace. When she first arrives at the retreat, she has an encounter with a man helping her with her suitcase:

“But now, here I was, standing on the airstrip on Taylor Island, and the tall man was saying, ‘Snow!’

Just confusion. That was all I had left.

‘Snow’ could be a command. All visitors, on arrival at the island, are required, please, to snow.

Or it could be the tall man’s name. In which case, I should shake his hand and say, ‘Sorenson. Abigail Sorenson.’

There was a long formal pause. The tall man’s smile faded. Creases settled into the edges of his eyes. Something seemed to cross his face–a mild incredulity, I realised, at the fact that I was standing there, staring at him.

Then the tall man found his smile again and pointed to a sky that was heavy with a cloud: ‘Snow,’ he repeated. ‘Any time now.’ And he turned away smiling.” (ch 1, pg 5)

This kind of thing happens again and again, and while at first it might have been amusing, it got frustrating soon enough. She seems perpetually confused: by strangers, by her son, by random things that happen. She also assesses everyone around her based solely on the relevance they have to her life; the men at the retreat are categorized by who is most suitable to sleep with. The effect is that she seems a bit dense and self-centered. This improves, however, as the book continues. It made me realize that Abi wasn’t an adult, not yet anyway. This was her coming-of-age story that had gotten put on hold with the disappearance of her brother. She might’ve aged, but she never grew up and into herself. This is a story of a woman who was left without answers, without control of her own life, and is desperately seeking it wherever she thinks it might lie.

Despite what I felt about the start, I was pulled back in by the ending. The latter half expands not only on the puzzle of The Guidebook but also gives attention to some side characters, which is where the novel finds its strength. When both the reader and Abi discover more depth in people who were previously just names, it creates a dynamic that is entertaining to read. We also get the complete history that gives us the context we need to see what Abi’s story is truly about, including the beginning and end of her marriage.

Overall, the novel features many self-help tropes, simultaneously framing them as ridiculous and telling the reader to indulge in it. It’s for anyone who has rolled their eyes at the various empowerment phrases but who has also at some point given into the whimsy of genuinely asking the universe for something. By following along with Abi’s quest to find herself, you might find a way to yourself as well.

 

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