Chrysalis: A Novel by Anna Metcalfe
Published by Doubleday
Publication date: April 11, 2023
Genres: Debut, Fiction, Contemporary, Literary
Ready to switch reading gears? On Tuesday I reviewed Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club, a novel that was all heart and humor. Today I’m back with Chrysalis which was neither, but is a unique little novel that held my interest. It’s split into three parts, despite there being four characters. Author Anna Metcalfe leaves her protagonist unnamed and never speaks for herself. Instead, what we learn of her and her transformation is narrated by a boyfriend, her mother, and a friend. None of whom have contact with her anymore.
Chrysalis begins in a gym where Elliott is intrigued by the attitude of a new member as she pursues an increasingly complex workout regimen. They go on to have a relationship and he learns why she’s dedicated herself to extreme physical change. Namely, that in growing bigger, she’ll feel more grounded and present. Elliott watches as she achieves unusual levels of power in stillness and then, one day she is gone.
The women in Chrysalis are Bella, the woman’s mother and Susie, a work friend. Despite being close throughout her childhood her daughter has recently let Bella know she is a drain on her energy and so can no longer be a part of her life. Susie speaks last, having rescued the woman after an abusive relationship. She lets her live with her and is the person who sees the culmination of the woman’s transformation before she leaves to live in solitude.
For those needing resolution in their reading, this is not that kind of novel. I like closure in my plots, but when a book is more cerebral in nature I can be a fan of ambiguity. Chrysalis meets this criterion, with its minimalist prose and flat affect. This, plus the fact that the main character never speaks for herself, gives the novel a clinical feeling. Even as the woman’s words are shared by others, they’re devoid of emotion. Having said that, even though I was not bothered by the lack of what happened, the vagueness of why it happened felt a bit itchy.
Metcalfe uses Chrysalis to probe many of the interesting issues of our times. Is the novel a metaphor for the mindset of the me-first attitude currently permeating society or is it the conundrum of a life supposedly lived in solitude all while being painstakingly curated and posted on social media? Are you alone if you’re physically isolated, but in constant online contact with others? Then there are the facets of trauma, motherhood, identity, personal responsibility…so many questions touched on, but left hanging.
I was drawn to the detached aspect of the novel, maybe because I’ve been reading too much nonfiction lately about crime against women and feel as if my skin has been flayed. Fiction that occupied my mind and left my feelings asleep was a relief. Chrysalis is the kind of novel that works well in book clubs as interpretations are likely to reveal more about the reader than the author.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Doubleday in exchange for an honest review.*
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