The premise of Suzanne Alyssa Andrew’s debut novel is a familiar one: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes to great lengths to get girl back. Where Circle of Stones distinguishes itself from this stock contrivance, however, is in its narrative approach: Andrew delivers her tale through the voices and private dramas of her supporting cast.
The lovers in question are Nik and Jennifer – he a sensitive art student, she a free-spirited dancer. The power dynamic is made clear at the outset, as they frolic in Nik’s bedroom in his shabby apartment, known as the Rumble Shack. Nik reaches for Jennifer and she continuously dances away, eluding him – a motif that is repeated throughout the novel. When Jennifer suddenly disappears, Nik journeys from Vancouver to Toronto to Ottawa in pursuit of his beloved, “the only girlfriend who mattered.”
Nik and Jennifer are afforded four chapters of their own, all of which are narrated in the third person. The novel’s other eight chapters – all first-person accounts told from the points of view of a wide array of individuals – work to establish Nik and Jennifer as narrative focal points with an air of mystery about them: we are never fully inside their heads, and they are always being observed by outsiders. Those outsiders include Nik’s friend Aaron, a geriatric nurse withholding a dark past; a teenage girl involved in Ottawa’s goth/industrial scene; and a former revolutionary turned filmmaker. These intimate accounts could almost work as stand-alone stories, if not for cameo appearances by Nik and/or Jennifer – at nightclubs, on street corners, or on news broadcasts. These often feel a little too conveniently inserted, always occurring at precisely the right moment.
The themes of obsessive love and human interconnectedness have been tackled time and again by countless artists in various genres. In Circle of Stones, Andrew has taken an innovative approach to a timeless subject, only to have the all-too-familiar romance of her lead players disrupt the more interesting dramas of her ancillary creations.