I’ve just finished reading Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue, and my mind is still processing it. The premise is fascinating. A young girl, probably about 8 or 9, turns up on the doorstep of a lonely woman in the middle of the night, and is perhaps not at all what she seems. That same woman happens to be still mourning the loss of her only child, a girl who ran away in her late teens, and this little girl is young enough to be her daughter’s daughter. So, in a whim probably driven by the loss Mrs Quinn has experienced, they pass her off as the granddaughter, come to stay while her mother sorts out some problems.
Norah Quinn (or maybe NOR, or maybe Noriel, the reader isn’t really told her real name) is precoscious and odd, but endearing. She is skinny, with unkempt hair and round glasses. She seems cute. She befriends a little boy who has been abandoned by his father, and fills his life with wonder and questions. She is different from the other kids, but instead of being self-conscious of that, she thrives in it. She is the character that everyone who writes wishes they’d been visited by. She makes you want to know her. She makes you believe the impossible.
“I know lots of things” she said, and catching the interest in his eyes, she shrieked and tore off through the woods, her shoes skating across the snow and bare earth, and he did not catch up to her until they reached the back fence of Mrs Quinn’s yard. At a blind corner, they nearly crashed, and as he caught himself short by grabbing her shoulders, Norah screamed at the touch and laughed and screamed again, and he could see stars glistening at the back of her throat.
If Norah has been an orphan her whole life as she claims, then that leaves huge questions about why she is so intelligent. One must also ask, then, why she is so interested in Erica Quinn (the long lost daughter of the woman she has attached herself to) and why her purpose seems to be to manipulate those in Mrs Quinn’s life to bring Erica back to her. It is easy to accept at face value the reason Norah gives.
But the comes the second part of the book, a flashback that concentrates on Erica’s disappearance ten years earlier, in 1975. And suddenly, Norah is placed in a context outside of Mrs Quinn’s house and Friendship Elementary School. Here, the reader is introduced to another little girl who is very similar to Norah, also living with her grandmother upon the disappearance of her parents. Then, there’s the crazy man who delivers a warning, saying “the little girl said,” and headlights reflecting off round glasses that Erica and her lover never see, and so many other moments that have you reading over part one again to double check things. And then there’s the moment that makes you wonder, is Mrs Quinn’s lie maybe closer to the truth?
I also loved the story of Erica. I’m glad Donohue gave us the chance to know her, to sympathise with her. My heart broke for her. I wanted so badly for her story to turn out differently, though I knew it couldn’t because there needed to be a third part of the book. Though Erica’s story could have been a novel in itself, having it hammocked by the story of Norah and Mrs Quinn makes it that much more powerful. It is taken from being a tale of young love and stupidity turning dangerous that could be any book, and gives it that magic realism that makes it something special. So many parts of Erica’s story would never have been relevant if the reader didn’t already know Norah.
I wanted things to turn out differently for Wiley too, and that is true talent on the part of the author. He is a character who could be written as someone I would hate, but instead I hoped for him. I hoped for a different ending for he and Erica, and I hoped he’d make the right choices. At the very least, I hoped he was still wandering around somewhere aimlessly, not really going anywhere, but at least not where he actually ended up. I love as well that the author doesn’t give these two more maturity then they can handle. Often authors of adult fiction will write teenagers with an adult voice, no matter how hard they try to give them a teenage life. But Erica and Wiley have teenage voices. They think teenage thoughts and make teenage decisions. No matter how heartbreaking their story is, at least it is believable.
Though Mrs Quinn is also a main character, it kind of feels like she has closed herself off to our prying eyes. Which makes sense considering what she has been through, and I hope it is deliberate because if so, it is brilliance on the part of the author. Her sister, Dianne, is a visiting character, but one that turns out to be pivotal to the plot. I like that.
During the third part of the book, events seem to start taking the kind of turn that makes you say “Oh no, don’t do that, that will ruin the whole book.” But thankfully, it doesn’t continue down that path. The ending is sweet, and leaves many questions unanswered. But in a good way. I wouldn’t have liked those questions to be answered, because I’d already drawn my own conclusion by the end of the book, and I would have been gutted if that wasn’t it.