Nicole Melanson ~
Eleanor Ray’s Everything Is Beautiful (The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton in other countries) is a meditation on mental instability, exploring how a person can come undone through a combination of misfortune and heartbreak.
Amy Ashton had a happy life living with the man she hoped to marry and her best friend. When circumstances abruptly change, Amy is at a loss for answers and tries to comfort herself with keepsakes. In no time at all, she amasses an overwhelming collection of objects that shield her from the outside world while imprisoning her in her own home. Amy literally can’t let anyone in, but some new neighbors hope to change that.
There is much to admire and enjoy in this debut. Everything Is Beautiful is an easy read with a light touch, but still manages to delve into dark undercurrents of loneliness and grief. Amy’s entire life feels frozen in time and Ray does a great job illustrating the friction between Amy’s paralysis and everyone else’s forward momentum.
There are also some gorgeous secondary characters in this book, particularly the children who move in next-door, who are not only charming but have genuine narrative impact; the further I read, the more I realized how rare it is to see this sense of presence and agency in adult fiction’s younger characters. Some of the male characters at large got mixed up for me, and there was perhaps too much sub-plotting involving Amy’s coworkers, though I did appreciate the idea that temporary roles turn into permanent ones as the years slip past.
Another strength of this book was the dual narrative structure. This is a construct I seem to be coming across a lot at the moment, and this was one of the more successful executions I’ve read. There was a good balance between Amy’s old life and her current one, and Ray convincingly illustrated the difference between a young woman’s thinking and some of the perspective that comes with maturity.
There was a bit towards the end where I felt like the book was wrapping up too quickly and I braced myself for an ending with a big bow on top, but then there was a slight ebb in storytelling that led to a much more satisfying conclusion. As a treatise on the psychology of hoarding, I’m not sure this book goes deep enough or accurately reflects the struggle to recover, but it lends some humanity to the condition that is missing in sensationalist TV programming, and as a work of commercial fiction, it’s a success.
— Nicole Melanson