Most novels are read purely for entertainment. They’re forgotten soon after we turn the last page. But some, like Liz Michalski’s debut novel, “Evenfall,” linger long after we’ve set them aside, their characters haunting the same twilight-lit spaces as our long-kept secrets and distant memories.
“Evenfall” is the story of young architecture historian, Andie Murphy, who returns to the Connecticut farm where she grew up after spending years in Italy. Officially she’s there to help settle her Uncle Frank’s estate and to help her Aunt Gert, Frank’s sister-in-law and once his lover, clean out the farm’s 200-year-old house, Evenfall. But almost as soon as Andie arrives, we see it’s not just the estate that needs settling.
Like the old house itself, named Evenfall after the mysterious place that lies between light and dark, Andie and Aunt Gert must learn to pull themselves free from the shadowy depths of their pasts. Andie’s struggles have her facing parts of herself that she’d left behind along with the rolling hills of Connecticut, and a tough decision involving a handsome local farm hand she meets upon her return and her sophisticated ex-boyfriend from Italy who suddenly shows up in America. Gert’s troubles stem from a series of unfortunate decisions made in the past.
Now nearly 80-years-old, Gert had been Frank’s lover 50 years before the starting point of the novel. We learn through flashbacks that the affair began after she returned to Connecticut from nursing school to care for her dying father, and that she became pregnant at the same time Frank’s family learned that his brother had been killed in World War II. The corresponding developments cause Gert to leave town and to terminate the pregnancy under the mistaken belief she’s too much of a burden.
We find out that Frank eventually married Gert’s sister, Clara, but that he never got over Gert, and that his ghost continues to haunt Evenfall’s halls, occupying the muted space between life and death as he pines for what could have been.
More than anything, “Evenfall” is a story about choices and how the decisions we make ultimately determine where our souls will reside — in the light of our true selves, or in that dusky space somewhere between certainty and regret.
At one point, Gert tells Andie she needs to pay more attention to her decisions. “There’s not always time to go back and fix things the way you should, so you need to get it right the first time,” she says. And, luckily for readers, “Evenfall” helps light the way.
Liz Michalski of Haverhill, has been a reporter, editor, freelance writer, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines, and private corporations. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. Learn more at: www.LizMichalski.com.