At the Far End of Nowhere

Written by Christine Davis Merriman
Review by Viviane Crystal

Between 1950 and the 1970s, Lissa Power grows up with quite a unique family. Her father, Stouten, is a watchmaker, inventor, and genius with anything mechanical. He’s also 84, an elderly father who’s more like a grandfather, and his aged outlook forms Lissa and her brother Spence. Her mother, Jimmy, is a stay-at-home mom who watches out for them all. Spence is quite smart and loves anything scientific. Out of them all, it’s Spence who really watches out for his sister, although their father is extremely protective of Lissa.

There is nothing extraordinary about the plot of this story, a straight, simple narrative of a young girl’s coming of age. The drama comes to this family in historical events, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, as well as the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Prejudice is a definitive topic in this family, and Lissa is never quite sure of her father’s stance. Jimmy dies, and Lissa becomes the caretaker of her father. Readers will wonder whether this protectiveness over Lissa is good for her or more for her father, with a troubling, obsessive-compulsive quality to their relationship. Lissa falls in love with literature and writing, a saving grace in the very poor and hard world that surrounds her. As she puts it, “Like mainsprings, their narratives unwind, pulsing with flashes of setting, wisps of unforgettable character, quick-moving twists of plot, heart-opening epiphanies.” The remainder of Lissa’s story is how she gradually prepares for a world without her father, her own personal epiphany. Lovely, quaint yet haunting historical fiction.