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Review: Knowing where to look is the trick in 'Peripheral Vision' by Patricia Ferguson

Near the conclusion of British author Patricia Ferguson's novel Peripheral Vision, a character makes this observation about humanity's interconnected paths:

"Whenever I come across a coincidence like this I think, yes, but what about all the coincidences we never actually, you know, see? Perhaps they're happening all the time. And we just see the tip of the iceberg, and say, Oh how amazing! And miss all the others."

Sadly, it's this narrow focus, or lack of peripheral vision, that haunts Ferguson's characters in her American debut. Dark internal thoughts have put a temporary stranglehold on life's limitless possibilities for:

• Sylvia, a dedicated eye surgeon, who has just survived a life-threatening pregnancy in 1990s London. She's to nurture a beautiful daughter whom she can only view with an alien detachment.

• Ruby, a 1950s homemaker, who has gone from impoverished to nouveau riche, owning a grand home (and a washer and dryer!) with her hard-working husband. But her notion of perfection is forever altered when her son loses an eye in a senseless accident she can only blame on herself.

• Iris, a nurse in training, whose unconditionally beautiful — yet naive — outlook on life has the ability to soothe everyone but herself.

These women are tormented by their inner failings, which Ferguson richly narrates. She moves storytelling duties among them as well as a vital cast of supporting characters, elevating the novel from interesting story to literary success.

Ferguson, a critically acclaimed author of six books in England, seamlessly weaves the lives of these women together through chance encounters over four decades. Although the novel's ending may seem too perfect, there's a sense of justification that some happiness is deserved after spending so much time pondering Peripheral Vision's darker, more ominous shadows.

Jennifer DeCamp can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8881.

Peripheral Vision

By Patricia


Other Press, 396 pages, $24.95

Review: Knowing where to look is the trick in 'Peripheral Vision' by Patricia Ferguson 12/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, December 13, 2008 3:31am]
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