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In her sly first novel, Interviewing Matisse or The Woman Who Died Standing Up, author Lily Tuck's two (middle-aged, privileged, female) protagonists spend a rainy night on the phone desperately offering, and evading, chance after chance to connect with each other in a meaningful way. In her new book, Tuck's protagonist wants nothing but to connect; her search for meaning is the heart of this arresting, lyrical, strangely satisfying book.
The center of attention in The Woman Who Walked on Water is Adele, again a middle-aged, unquestionably privileged woman, a wife and mother who's been given "everything" by her successful husband: a house in Connecticut, a horse, big dogs, annual vacations in the Caribbean, the opportunity to do not much more than volunteer at museums and explore alternative therapies. She's also charismatic, lucky and beautiful, a champion swimmer who once ran the New York Marathon, a woman whose station in life has permitted her a certain whimsical nonchalance. Why, her dumbfounded family and friends ask, would someone like Adele give up everything to chase after an Indian guru she met in Chartres Cathedral?
But give up everything she does, thereby encountering cultural and spiritual frustration, confusion, heat, dust, unswimmable water, material sacrifice and loneliness. "Lily! What in the world ever happened to Adele?" asks Adele's friend, the new owner of one of ele's beloved Irish Setters, after Adele disappears. And Lily (the dog) may have as good an idea as anyone's of what has become of Adele. There is no neat ending here: Adele's family, baffled, moves on, her friends pass each other in the street with stray questions, the Caribbean resort enjoys its seasons of rain and sun and blooming vines, all without resolution or assessment.
Did Adele ever find enlightenment? Does it matter? "When you pray for God's grace," ays Ramana Maharishi in the epigraph to Chapter 1, "you are like someone standing neck-deep in water and yet crying for water." Adele's prayer, unexpected but sincere, may have been the point all along. Layering subtle allegory and ancient wisdom with sharp-edged characterization, this enigmatic book portrays a thoroughly believable and memorable quest for a life that transcends even its charmed beginnings. -- Salon