THE PAPER PALACE
BY MIRANDA COWLEY HELLER
Elle and her family spend every summer in the Back Woods living in their big summer house with a huge porch and four small cabins overlooking the shoreline of a pond and set against the beaches of Cape Cod in New England. A wild and lonely place for much of the year until the summer when it comes alive and breathes life into the families who go each year to enjoy nature at its best.
Miranda Cowley Heller begins the novel in the present day – it’s 6.30 am in the morning and for Elle "This is the end of a long story." From this point on, Cowley Heller switches between a 24-hour period over the present day versus snapshots of Elle’s life since her birth in December 1966 across the next 50 years. At 15, Elle bumps into 12-year old Jonas and together they form a special bond as they explore the woods, beaches and swim in the pond, sharing the same passions for the wilderness of the Back Woods. They become inseparable until a shared secret ruptures their relationship leading each to take different paths towards happiness. A night of reunion threatens to undo all they have carefully held together over 40 years.
Thrown into the mix is Elle’s troubled childhood of heartbreak, abuse, love, loyalty and an ever-present domineering mother who has failed in every relationship she has had with men. Throughout, the Back Woods form the solidity which give Elle, her sister Anna and their mother strength.
Cowley Heller has weaved a compelling love triangle set against the raw beauty of the New England backdrop. As two parallel words collide, the story left everyone in the Den guessing the outcome until the final page and beyond. A few of us felt some of the characters such as Elle’s English husband, were rather cliched but the parallel timelines add an interesting concept and the fallout of tragedy expertly drives the story.
Miranda Cowley Heller worked as Head of Drama at HBO for over a decade – it seems likely we will see this on our screens in the future.