I picked up Courtney Elizabeth Mauk’s debut novel SPARK in the early evening, expecting to read a few pages and did not put it down again until I had finished it three+ hours later. It’s a glorious, fast-paced read, filled with beautiful language, tightly-written scenes, and unforgettable characters.

For all of her life, Andrea has known one thing for sure: she was born to save her brother’s life. As such, she is the ultimate codependent, who only really comes to life when her brother is nearby so that she might save him. In fact, it seems as though she has been in a chrysalis all the years he has been away from her and it is not until he comes back into her life that her carefully wound, seemingly happy life, begins to unfurl. And then it begins to unwind and unwind it does.

At first, Andrea seems tentative about having her recovering pyromaniac brother to come and live with her and her boyfriend, and yet she prepares the apartment as one would do for a new infant; nesting and getting rid of anything that might cause him harm. Once he moves in, she takes things even farther, pushing away her boyfriend so that he might not do the harm she perceives him and his work capable of.

Essentially, she becomes her brother’s mother and following in her own mother’s footsteps–codependent, a helicopter parent. She does not and cannot exist without her brother and his disease.

She also cannot live without his fire. Even though he has spent the past 20 years reforming himself, she doesn’t believe that he is truly healed and when the papers start reporting suspicious fires around the city, she convinces herself it is him. Even when she can find no proof in his room or on his person, she believes he is guilty. She even goes so far to bring matches back into the house, as though to tempt him and have him fail, because like most codependents, she is as addicted to his disease as he is and as much as she wants to save him, she can’t fully live without the threat of him falling back into illness and danger.

Still, Andrea does find an outlet in two other women who people her world. First, there is Rain an aging actress whose dog she walks. Rain is hedonistic, independent, full of love and life. She is everything that Andrea is not. And yet even though Rain is fully developed, Andrea still cannot resist the urge to sometimes take care of Rain. To coddle her. To climb into bed and spoon her, as her sense of boundaries are so horribly skewed.

And then there is Sally, the night person. Andrea’s dark other half. She meets Sally while out walking one night and soon becomes addicted to the dangerous and exciting life Sally offers. Sally may or may not truly exist, but what is clear is that she represents both the unraveling of Andrea’s mind and also her opportunity for escape. She can choose to go on worrying over her brother and her mother, or she can embrace this darker, more carefree side of herself and let go.

You, my friend, will have to read the book to see what she decides.

Read it.

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