Book review: Semi-Detached by Elizabeth Ruth

 Elizabeth Ruth

Ghosts don’t show up unless they have a very good reason for doing so — and the ghost that haunts the pages of Elizabeth Ruth’s latest novel, Semi-Detached, is no exception. This ghost in particular is trying to come to terms with a series of tragic events that happened decades earlier.

The novel, which is set in Toronto, features two separate yet interconnected timelines. 

The events in the first timeline take place in December of 2013, in the midst of an ice storm that shut down the entire city. The main character in this thread of the novel is Laura Keys, a realtor who is preparing to sell a home on behalf of its owner, an older woman who has slipped into a coma.

The events in the second timeline take place roughly 70 years earlier, during an equally dramatic winter storm: the Great Snowstorm of 1944. The main character in this parallel thread is Edna (“Eddie”) Ferguson, a brickmaker whose love affair with her employer’s daughter ends in tragedy.

This is a novel where everything seems a little off-kilter — where everyone seems to have lost their bearings, and it’s not just because of all that stormy weather. The characters in this novel are dealing with storms of their own: emotional storms, big and small.

Semi-Detached by Elizabeth Ruth

There are so many reasons to love this book

  • If you’re looking for a novel that reads like an old-fashioned love story, but that also features some decidedly modern elements (including the fact that this is a dual-timeline queer romance), this will definitely be your kind of book. 
  • If you’re craving a compelling story — the kind you might choose to curl up with on a stormy night and devour in a single reading — this book delivers on that front, too. (Forget the storm chips! What you need is a great storm novel!)
  • And if you’re the kind of reader who deeply appreciates a beautifully crafted work of fiction, this book has much to offer. Semi-Detached delivers everything readers have come to expect from an Elizabeth Ruth novel: complex, true-to-life characters; a compelling plot; and lyrical writing.

Take, for example, this brief passage which hints at the broader themes of the novel — the fragility of life and love:

The filtered sun danced down over the trees that lined their winding street and the Japanese maple that shaded their porch. Lit, each spindly branch and each pointed leaf was preserved within a thin membrane of ice. She reached out for the closest leaf and ran her fingers across its smooth, cold surface. It snapped in her hand.

Semi-Detached is a novel about daring to love — even though that means your heart could end up being broken — and about finding the courage to go on in the wake of even the most gut-wrenching of losses. It is haunting and hopeful, heartbreaking and soul-nourishing, all at the same time.

This is the literary ghost story and the literary love story you’ve been waiting for, with a bit of murder and mayhem thrown in for good measure. In other words, it’s the kind of book that will make you think and that will continue to haunt you long after you’re finished reading.