The world magnified in Grace O’Connell’s debut novel is more like two: one geographic and one psychic, both intertwined. The most obvious of these is the novel’s setting on a small strip of Toronto’s Queen Street West, where the novel’s 23-year-old protagonist lives in an apartment above her mother’s new age curio shop opposite Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Maggie is forced to confront how little she really knows about her Georgia-born, Tarot-reading mother after the latter drowns herself in the Don River by filling her pockets with zircon stones from her store. Later, when Maggie remembers how a trip to the eye doctor left her mother’s pupils artificially dilated for the day, the image reads like a metaphor for the magnified and sensitized emotional state she finds herself in after the suicide.
Maggie starts having blackouts. Suspecting they’re stress-induced, she sets up an appointment at CAMH, the psychiatric hospital west of the park. There she meets the slick, vaguely nefarious Dr. Rosenberg, whom she is surprised to recognize from her mother’s funeral. Downplaying their relationship, Rosenberg encourages Maggie to check into Wooster House, the grief management facility he runs just outside the city. Although Maggie’s English professor father suggests Dr. Rosenberg’s interest in his wife was less than unimpeachable, Maggie decides to ignore the red flag and check in to Wooster House anyway.