by Brenda Clough 

Book View Cafť


347pp/$4.99/January 2011

Speak to Our Desires

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Three years after she ran away from home, Ellie Quatern has a problem.  With a reasonably successful modeling career in 1960s New York at the age of 17, Ellie has decided it is time to reconnect with her mother, Ruby, and she hires private eye Latimer "Tim" Coates to help track her down. The job Coates accepts is not an easy task as Ruby, a prostitute, tries to live without drawing any attention to herself. Brenda W. Clough details the search and the growing relationship between Tim and Ellie in Speak to Our Desires.

Much of the novel is in the form of backstory, with Ellie relating her childhood to Tim in order to allow him to try to track down her mother.  This allows Clough to describe not only the changing culture of the 1960s as Ellie grows from a child to a young adult, but also allows her to show the changing worldview as Ellie grows from dolls to the Beatles to modeling, along with some less wholesome pursuits. These flashbacks seem to take up the majority of the novel.

When not caught up in Ellieís childhood and years as a runaway, Tim is trying to track down the leads she gets him in an age far removed from ours.  Phone calls and travel are required rather than a quick e-mail or database search. This takes Tim to the places Ellie described, much to the consternation of Timís partner and their secretary, who not only look at the amount of time heís spending on the case, but are also concerned about his apparent emotional attachment to Ellie.

And that emotional attachment forms a major part of the riddle behind Ellie, Ruby, and their lifestyles, for both women have the strange ability to read other peopleís closest desires and play to them.  Although Clough doesnít focus on this aspect of their powers, it is very interesting to see how differently Ruby and Ellie use this ability to achieve very different lifestyles, with Ruby wallowing in her day-to-day existence as a small-town prostitute and Ellie achieving financial success in New York.

In many ways, Ellie and Rubyís abilities seem almost extraneous to the story of Timís search for Ellieís mother, which at times feels like it could have been written as a straight detective noir story.  Clough skillfully brings the ability to the forefront for both women, however, altering their lives and the story, before returning to the more mundane aspects of her novel.

Tim and Ellieís growing relationship is depicted well.  Clough shows a genuine affection between the two which transcends Timís desire for the young model or Ellieís need for a father figure in her life. By the time they discover Rubyís fate, Tim is there for Ellie, guiding her through a world she never had to experience before. For all the trappings of a PI story or a science fictional tale of Ellie's mental abilities, the relationship between the two characters forms the crux of the novel, and it, more than Ellie's life story or her search for Ruby, is what impels the reader onward.

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