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Book Review: The Damnable Legacy

The Damnable Legacy. G. Elizabeth Kretchmer. Seattle, WA: Booktrope, July 25, 2015, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 347 pages.

Reviewed by Michelle M. Burwell.

Just before Beth Mahoney dies of cancer, she makes a connection between two otherwise disparate people and orchestrates a plan to bring them together. Lynn Van Swol is a world-class mountain climber; she has an unshakeable determination to climb seven mountain peaks as a homage to the daughter she gave up for adoption thirty years earlier. Frankie Rizzoni is a troubled teenager living a somewhat transient life with her troubled mother, who is Lynn Van Swol’s biological daughter. In her debut novel, G. Elizabeth Kretchmer weaves a complex narrative of two characters: Lynn who is ostensibly perfect and Frankie who is outwardly tormented. However, both characters toil with their own inner demons. Beth, the book’s narrator, is dead, and can only watch from the afterlife as her plan to bring the two together unfolds, and then unravels.

Lynn is a determined and accomplished woman. She has achieved nearly everything she set out to do in life. Now she is about to climb Denali, her seventh and final peak. Unbeknownst to Lynn, her granddaughter, Frankie, is merely looking for a sense of normalcy but she has problems. She is a self-cutter and runs away from her mother. After discovering the connection between Lynn and Frankie, Beth thinks Frankie would be happier with her grandmother, Lynn, and devises a plan that will culminate on Denali.

The climb on Denali is treacherous and the weather is deadly. The climbers on the expedition seem to be buckling under all the pressure and their character flaws are unveiled. Meanwhile, runaway Frankie is bouncing around the country trying to shake free of her mother. Throughout all of this, our narrator, Beth, is only able to look on as the trajectory of Lynn and Frankie’s lives change. As Lynn and Frankie’s authentic selves become known to her, Beth begins to doubt her plan and whether Lynn and Frankie might actually be a good fit after all.

The plot twists and turns, and just when you think it is all about to come together, things completely fall apart. Kretchmer forces the reader to confront what success actually means, what constitutes success, and how far the reader would go to achieve a goal—that might end in death.

Kretchmer creates an intricate plot that combines adventure and suspense into a story that feels wholly original and unique. The story is dense and fast moving but easy to follow. There were a few brief lulls in the story when the characters feel too predictable, but just when the reader thinks the characters are too clichéd or the story is too coincidental, the author sends the characters into predicaments where not everyone comes out on top. I was intrigued by the narration from the afterlife. Kretchmer made me question what it means to be alive (and what it means to be dead).

I would recommend Damnable Legacy to all readers. However, those readers who have toiled over love, adoption, perfection, teenage angst, or the impulse to just run away from it all, will find the novel especially relatable. The icy, windy, and snowy setting on Denali makes Damnable Legacy the perfect book-by-the-fire read.

Kretchmer has an MFA in writing from Pacific University and The Damnable Legacy is her first novel. Kretchmer has published work in the New York Times, High Desert Journal, Silk Road Review and more. I am excited to see where she goes from here.

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