The Raising, by Laura Kasischke.
"You can pretend you aren't superstitious," Professor Polson said. "You can imagine that you are not religious. You can be certain that you don't believe in life after death, if that's what you want. But, Perry, it doesn't stop the fact that we are in a very strange position her. We humans. With such a clear knowledge of how it will end, and no idea what will happen afterward -- just some symbols, some music, some stories to show us the way. - from The Raising, page 206 -
Craig arrives at Godwin's Honor Hall, an elite organization within the larger University, without a care in the world. He knows he hasn't earned his spot, like the rest of the kids there, but he isn't worried about academics -- it's the partying that motivates him. Craig's roommate Perry, on the other hand, is a serious perfectionist. Both boys are drawn to Nicole -- a beautiful blond with a charming demeanor, a girl who is much more than what she appears. Then, one night, Craig and Nicole are involved in a car accident and Nicole is killed. The only witness is a middle-aged woman named Shelly, who is baffled when the newspapers report false information about what she has seen. No one seems willing to get Shelly's side of the story -- not the reporters or the police. And then, students begin to report that perhaps Nicole really is not gone altogether. Perhaps she is still walking around the University. Perhaps her sorority sisters know more than they are telling.
The Raising is a fast paced, intriguing literary mystery that explores our superstitions about death, and the collective hysteria that arises when the facts become blurred. Laura Kasischke structures the narrative in multiple points of view, weaving back and forth in time. As secrets begin to reveal themselves, the characters struggle with their own conflicts and identities. In fact, a strong theme of the book is that of identity and the setting (a college campus) is the perfect place to explore it. How much do people sacrifice themselves in order to fit in their chosen groups? What happens to one's values when peer pressure exerts itself? In Kasischke's capable hands, the novel turns on itself, making the reader wonder what is real and what is not.
"Like that's not how it is with everybody? Like all the lesbians your age aren't all trying to look and act alike? Like all the counter-culture kids, or all the conservatives, or all the professors or librarians or bookstore clerks around her aren't, every one of them, completely interchangeable?" - from The Raising, page 363 -
One of the things I appreciated about The Raising was the pitch perfect dialogue of youth, and Kasischke's ironic sense of humor which captures perfectly the space between youth and maturity.
The day was getting colder. The sky, darker. It would be a matter of minutes, Mira felt certain, before the first blizzard of the year began in earnest -- and still there were boys crossing the street in short sleeves, girls in mini-dresses and tank tops. Was this vanity, ill-preparedness, or did their youth give them some sort of metabolic advantage in the cold? - from The Raising, page 285 -
The novel takes on a seductive, sexual quality as the characters try to unravel the mystery of Nicole. The setting itself becomes a character in the story giving the novel a sinister and Gothic feel. Some readers may be put off by the graphic descriptions in parts of this book -- but I felt they were not gratuitous, instead adding to the flavor of the story and supporting the themes which Kasischke develops.
The Raising is a terrific book -- good writing, fascinating characters and a plot which keeps the reader guessing. Readers who enjoy Gothic literature, mysteries, and a well-told story will like this one.
- Quality of writing: Four stars out of five
- Characters: Four stars out of five
- Plot: Four and a half stars out of five
Overall Rating: Four stars out of five
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".