Brackmann is a brave and extraordinary writer. Her tough-minded, original and complex thriller is beautiful even when things get ugly. And things get really ugly for Ellie McEnroe, Brackmann's vibrantly realized kick-ass protagonist. In a world where strong women (but not too strong) are newly celebrated, rough around the edges, smart-mouthed, damaged Ellie is the real deal. Her time as a medic in Iraq and her failed marriage have scarred her body, her soul and her heart. And it isn't just the beers she tosses down or the Percocets she pops to dull the pain that make her numb. Some stuff is just too painful to remember, and, when the memories appear unbidden, too frightening and painful to face.
Brackmann's triumph isn't justEllie, but the way Brackmann realizes life in modern China––the scent of the autumn air in Bejing, the texture of the stained white coverlet on a train's "soft sleeper," and feeling of always being alone and watched, eavesdropped on or lied to. Those doing the watching, the following, the listening and the hacking are at the heart of the novel––knowing who is on which side and what the sides are is difficult and dangerous. And then there is the alternative world of a video game that Ellie must navigate as well. Brackmann braids Ellie's past, present and this virtual world into a troubling, exciting and beautiful contemplation of guilt and pain, community and complicity, art and solitude, and loss and love. Read the book.