Death as a performance has been done many times. But a story about a call girl planning her own “perfect suicide” set alongside the story of her therapist is new to me. Ullman’s characters are tragic heroes in the classic sense of the word, but remain original nonetheless. Although the main character, the narrator of this journal-story, Ripley Astilla Luna, identifies with Greek myths, giving herself nicknames like Cassandra and Medea, and finding ways her life mirrors stories of the gods, she doesn’t aspire to become a legend. She just wants to be among the stars. She wants to feel weightless. She wants to be an astronaut. Only, she never got the chance. Instead, she becomes a criminal sentenced to therapy after jail, who happens to take hefty “donations” for her escort service. Her therapist, Dan Truscott, is not blind to her wiles. He’s fascinated by her story and her face even before he meets her. He wants to know more about her, and, as he finds out, he also finds he wants her. Will he be able to help her?
Getting to know someone, even a character, makes hearing about their death all the more difficult. Why does Ullman tell us about it? Is it masochism? Is it voyeurism? No, once a lawyer and now a nurse practitioner with experience in mental health, he cares about people. I believe he’s telling us so we know; so we don’t close our eyes; so we might see beauty where the world only sees despair; and so that Ripley will live on in his words. She’s not lost forever. He captures well the voice of a twenty one year old woman as well as that of a forty year old man with references to movies and music, history and science that set them in a context most to which most readers can relate. It’s not a happy tale, but it’s not all sad, either. It’s insightful and dark as well as light-filled and probing. You won’t come away unscathed.
Mari Carlson, book blogger and reviewer for The Midwest Book Review