Willa & Hesper
by Amy Feltman
Grand Central Publishing. 304 pages. $26.
WILLA & HESPER begins unexpectedly, with Willa, the more lyrical and likable of the two main characters, numbly attempting to process an assault in which she was pressed against a tree, pawed by an unidentified male, and then left to wonder why this attack had to happen outside her childhood temple. Today’s readers will key into the political undercurrents of the novel and the rising tide of hatred that crashes upon the characters in later chapters, when the novel, which begins in the middle of the Obama presidency, catches up to the 2016 presidential election. At this early stage, however, the fact of that temple and the fact of Willa’s Judaism are seen through a more intimate, personal lens, with this incident severing her connection to God (permanently, she fears). In the absence of her faith, Willa avoids dealing with her trauma by plunging headlong into a queer relationship with a fellow MFA candidate, Hesper, whose initial loveliness and strangeness give the novel at least a veneer of brightness and happiness.Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. She teaches at Hugo House in Seattle.