Love is well-trodden terrain in fiction. But we return to it for the familiarity and endless depth. So when Cheryl A. Ossola centers an old love, that between a mother and her child, in The Wild Impossibility she treads a worn road. Yet she manages to blaze a fearless trail all her own while kicking the dust on that old road into enchanting shapes.
The book is told primarily from Kira’s perspective, a NICU nurse whose life is normal until the death of her daughter during childbirth and, soon after that, of her mother. The dual loss ravages her world. Ossola notes, “she couldn’t remember what love without devastation felt like.” In the wake of these deaths, Kira’s marriage dwindles, her best friendship suffers, and she begins experiencing visions of another woman’s life that are at once terrifying and exhilarating.
Ossola alternates her book between Kira’s present day experiences and the story of Maddalena, a teenager living near Manzanar near the end of WWII. Maddalena falls recklessly in love with a Japanese youth, Akira, who is imprisoned in the internment camp. And so the narrative accelerates along these parallel tracks as Kira pieces together her visions and Maddalena yearns for a life with Akira and we begin to understand who Maddalena is, why her story matters.
This is smart fiction, in construction and execution. The reader often knows things about Kira’s story before Kira does because we are given a wider lens. At first, it seems as if Ossola gives too much away. But watching Kira discover what we already know feels as rewarding as any self-discovery I might make as a reader.
The Ache and Cruelty of the Past
Where the book shines brightest is in its careful, riveting telling of Maddalena and Akira’s romance as they live out the last months of WWII in and around Manzanar. Playing around their narrative are sections told from the perspective of the collective voice of the Japanese elders interned at the camp, which provide a glimpse of the wider impact such imprisonment had on Japanese Americans in the 1940s even while Akira and Maddelena provide the heartbreaking emotional engagement found in singular relationships.
The Wild Impossibility is the kind of fiction that captures the past in all its ache and cruelty such that I don’t just believe something like this story happened; I almost come to believe that this exact story happened. It is a remarkable achievement to bring history screaming through the morning into high-noon for new reckoning. Unfortunately, our country’s political moment makes this not so much cautionary as it is a reminder that history rhymes with itself.
Kira’s search for the meaning behind the visions takes her on a series of physical and mental journeys that have her chasing the past to where Manzanar used to be as her story intersects with Maddalena’s until the generational connections slot into place. Kira realizes who she is because of the choices her mother made and her grandmother before her, these ancestors who were “givers of life, of indelible memories, kids who believed in the kind of love that would persist through generations.”
Now we understand that wild impossibility Ossola references in the title. No matter the odds, no matter the barriers, Ossola shows how two people might chase that wild impossibility, love, and catch enough of it that nobody who follows in their footsteps will be the same because of it. Maybe love is an old photo. But Ossola has given it a new frame, and I find myself staring, unable to wrest my eyes from this art.
The Wild Impossibility is published by Regal House Publishing.