Escape Plans

Teri Vlassopoulos

The rotating point-of-view structure in fiction has started to become somewhat of a literary trope to me, often unnecessary and even distracting. But I love how Teri uses it with purpose here. (This is another book where I have some friendly bias to acknowledge, having known Teri and her writing for many years.) I can see a lot of her experience in this book, from its settings in Toronto, Montreal, and Greece to its road trip interlude via Niagara Falls, but her characters inhabit those terrains with their own motivations.

The three narrators are a fragmented family: a separated couple and their sole child. The timeline is anchored around the father Niko’s death; he chronicles his last months while the mother Anna and the daughter Zoe progress mainly in the years after his death. Despite the distances between each person — both in physical and temporal senses — they are united in their experiences of isolation and avoidance, all adrift in some manner. Niko and Zoe both look to ancestral roots to ground themselves, Niko having returned to Greece to work for what remained of his family’s shipping company, then managed by new owners. Zoe begins translating her grandmother’s book of poetry, The Solitary Woman, intrigued by its reference to the Graeae, “three sea nymphs who’d been born with prematurely grey hair and shared one eye.” Her grandmother envisions her family as the Graeae (also a trio with Niko as the sole child), writing in a poem, “a single eye, three hearts.” While Zoe seeks connection with the past, Anna is weighted down by it, unable to move forward, her marriage with Niko like a monument she can’t seem to leave behind.

Looking back on what I wrote about Teri’s first book, the collection of short stories Bats or Swallows, I will borrow the idea of internal conclusions. Though by their last chapters the characters all end journeys in some sense, their stories resolve mostly in emotional ways.

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