The fact that Garner has written this story as a novel rather than as a memoir grants her greater authorial freedom, but it also grants her creation a different status. We are not asked to believe that Nicola actually lived and breathed (although one suspects that she did), just as we are not asked to believe that Helen's rage and compassion belong to Garner alone; instead, we confront this situation—this universal situation—on its own terms, purely on the merits of Garner's luminous, adamantine narrative. Just as Ivan Ilych both is and isn't you, or me, both Helen and Nicola are also raised above themselves. Fiction offers a genuine transformation, a truth greater than the sum of its parts. This short, passionate book explores all aspects of struggle in the tremendous, inevitable struggle. A triumph of art over artifice, Garner's novel does not spare us, nor itself. It reminds us that literature not only can, but must, address the most important subjects, because it does so in ways no other form can. As (fictional) Helen quotes (fictional) King Lear: "Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,/And thou no breath at all?" Made up words they may be, but no lament has rung more true.