Filling in the blanks

<strong>One for Sorrow, Two for Joy</strong>

Elise Juska <em>Pocket Books, 271pp, £10.99</em>


Elise Juska’s novel takes as its conceit the humble crossword puzzle. In fact, her characters are constantly playing wordgames: crosswords, a drinking version of Truth or Dare, and the Name Game. From these metaphors spring a book that is by turns humorous, quirky and poignant in its examination of three marriages across two generations in an Irish-American family.

The crossword provides Juska with a framework for Claire Gallagher, a linguist who can only figure herself out by filling in the blanks of her family’s past. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Claire resorts to creating crossword puzzles after having given up her own studies to be with her husband. As her marriage unravels, she goes to spend a few days with her younger sister, Noelle, who lives in Ireland. The trip forces Claire to look at her parents’ relationship and her sister in a new way, as well as at her own life.

In this tale of shifting family dynamics, the simplicity of the narrative creates a lovely counterpoint with Juska’s own sophisticated wordplay. This combination breathes intensity and excitement into her characters – particularly the feisty Noelle – and the places they inhabit, like Juska’s native Philadelphia and the small sleepy town in Ireland where Claire finds herself.