THE ODYSSEY

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“What you need to understand is that everything is coming out of and going into nothingness. That is the principle of wabi sabi,” Ingrid, the protagonist of Williams’ peculiar novel, is told by Keith, her boss aboard the vast luxury cruise liner on which she has lived and worked for the past five years, in the book’s opening passage. Williams has predicated the book’s plot on this idea of inevitable decay and deterioration, the acceptance (even the acceleration) of imperfection—yet elements of the story, like the concept behind it, can be challenging to embrace. For somewhat perplexing reasons, Ingrid has left her cozy bourgeois life with a loyal, loving husband, as well her well-appointed home and all her clothes and belongings, to move, with only the most minimal possessions, into a tiny room on a cruise ship and rotate through menial jobs, such as gift shop worker and manicure parlor manager. When she is at sea and not at work, Ingrid primarily spends her time peering moonily out through the small, sealed porthole in her tiny room or meeting up with her two friends, Mia and Ezra—a sister and brother who also rotate through jobs onboard—to eat bland leftovers in the crew mess, watch old sitcoms, or play Families, a game they’ve created in which they take turns being the mother, father, or doted-upon baby. “We all agreed being the baby was best,” Ingrid narrates. On land, she mostly drinks—a lot—and makes bad decisions. When Keith chooses Ingrid to participate in an eccentric mentoring program, she is forced to reckon with her past missteps, personal shortcomings, and painful losses—and things get really strange, leading to Ingrid’s degradation, but also possibly…growth?

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