CJ Hauser's Family of Origin taps into collective anxieties with a deeply emotional story of people yearning for an imagined, better past. Nolan Grey and his half-sister Elsa travel to Leap's Island, off the Gulf Coast, where a group called Reversalists--who believe something is "unstoppably wrong with the world"--are trying to find "a science to match their sentiments," namely, that evolution is moving backward. Nolan and Elsa's father, Ian Grey, was a brilliant biologist who relocated to the island to investigate a seemingly crackpot theory. He drowned, and his children have come for his effects.
Elsa and Nolan "might have been happier if they could be forgetful, or dead, but they were not." Although they never lived together, they share a betrayal so profound it changes the course of their lives. The wounds of their relationship open on the island as they exorcise demons long submerged. Characters, even those who don't believe that evolution is reversing, often wish life moved backward. Says one, "Time and possibilities would be given back, unspent. You would see yourself stripped clean of experience and pain."
Hauser illuminates the inner lives of her characters so fully that their actions are not only believable but predestined. As the story highlights each of those on the island, showing their history back and forth in time, the climax that Nolan and Elsa trigger seems unavoidable. "Maybe humanity needed a mulligan," thinks Elsa, and readers are left to believe that humanity may be on track after all. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.