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The American Voice

Eva Moves the Furniture

by Margot Livesey

Holt, 234 pp., $23

Margot Livesey's previous novels (Homework, Criminals, and last year's The Missing World) have been about the everyday terrors that sneak up on ordinary people -- a baby is kidnapped in Criminals and a boyfriend hides his dark past to his amnesiac girlfriend in The Missing World. They are suspense novels without cheap thrills, further distinguished by vibrant characters and finely tuned prose. Her latest, Eva Moves the Furniture, feels a bit more personal, even tender, though still graced by her acute portraits and clear-eyed language. To a much smaller degree, Livesey has also retained the tinged air of malevolence and mystery that so filled her earlier works.

Eva McEwen is born in the Scottish town of Troon in 1920, but her mother dies soon after due to childbirth complications. Eva is brought up by the loving hands of her father and Aunt Lily, living out a peaceful life in the Scottish countryside. When she is 5, she begins getting visits from an older woman and a teenage girl. They help her gather eggs, walk with her to school, even play games with her. Only later does she realize that these people were "different from our other neighbors. They appeared and disappeared mysteriously, they seemed to have no home, they couldn't answer simple questions ... they existed in their own particular dimension." She realizes that she is the only one who can see them. Throughout Eva's life, they pop up at both opportune and inopportune times -- thwarting her friendships and romances, saving her life during a bomb raid, moving her furniture when displeased. The reader and Eva constantly wonder: Do these spirits mean her well or intend her harm?

This is not a long novel, but Livesey follows Eva throughout her entire life, from childhood to adulthood, through marriage and the birth of her own daughter -- all of it conjured with economical and vivid detail. Even more impressive is Livesey's ability to make the existence of the ghostly figures seem entirely plausible; we have no choice but to believe in them. And with her usual skillful hand at mystery, Livesey keeps us guessing about what these two figures mean for Eva and why they follow her all the days of her life. In fashioning a novel that is both moving and mysterious, she has also put an original spin on the ghost story.

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