“Tapiser” by Anne Britting Oleson

At the outset of Anne Britting Oleson’s new romance, “Tapiser,” Emily Harris is adrift. She is bewilderingly divorced from her husband, has hesitantly begun a new part-time job at the library, is having trouble communicating with her somewhat bitchy mother, her grandmother wants to talk to her and, to make matters worse, a frequent library patron named Nick seems to like her.

At first she’s able to skate over some of the thin ice in her life by blaming her troubles on Nick, who keeps thinking up reasons to pester her for help in the stacks. Then her grandmother, Eleanor — who in contrast to Emily’s mom, Elaine, is a totally reasonable, if cryptic person — unloads by piecemeal indirection several bombshells on Emily. One of them involves Nick (not his real name, it turns out), and another is a medieval tapestry bestowed upon Emily with the charge, “Now the responsibility is yours.” Eleanor does not reveal what, exactly, this responsibility is.

Amid her classic hate-him/love-him relationship with Nick, Emily finds herself sorting through her strange family history, including the long-ago love affair between her grandmother and grandfather Nolan that produced bitchy Elaine. Later, Nolan settled in England with a whole other family. Emily determines she must journey to England, with the tapestry, to try to track down her step-grandmother who — who knows? — might be able to provide clues about these mysterious responsibilities.

When her plane lands at Heathrow Airport in England, Emily feels it is “somehow like coming home.” She makes her tentative way to the house of her step-grandmother, Vivian, a well-adjusted, cheery British home also containing Emily’s aunt Katti, and Katti’s lover, Helen. They lovingly take Emily under their wing. Which is fortunate for Emily because almost as soon as she arrives she starts having weird visionary fainting episodes in the ancient churches and places of the town — some of which incidents are not supernatural and involve Nick, aka Carwyn.

Emily’s episodes nudge her slowly closer to an understanding of her matrilineage, where the tapestry might have come from, and, significantly, the anomalous female tapiser who made it. Inside these depths of time and space are the keys to the ancient responsibility Emily has inherited.

Emily’s fears and emotional uncertainty, from her increasingly complicated relationship with Nick/Carwyn, to her loving, wounded-bird rescue by the British women, to the confusions of her psychic episodes, are particularly vivid in this family romance, whose emotions, mysteries and even settings are similar to those in Oleson’s previous novel “Dovecote.” Readers who enjoyed the romantic and gothic elements in “Dovecote” will be equally delighted by “Tapiser.”

Anne Britting Oleson lives in Dixmont. She is also the author of “The Book of the Mandolin Player” and three poetry chapbooks, “The Church of St. Materiana,” “The Beauty of It” and “Alley of Dreams.” “Tapiser” is available through Bedazzled Ink Publishing and online book sellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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