Cover image for Raveling
Smith, Peter Moore, 1965-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown, [2000]

Physical Description:
389 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Raveling is a brilliant thriller about two brothers, their mother, and the sad fact of their little sister's unsolved disappearance twenty years earlier. One of the brothers, Pilot, has come back home to take care of his aging mother, but his own mental state has not been stable since his sister vanished. He is determined at last to find out the truth -- but for every step he takes nearer the facts of that long-ago night, the less he trusts reality. And by the time he finds one incontrovertible piece of evidence, even Pilot cannot be sure what it really means.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The narrator of this haunting blend of mystery and magic realism, Pilot James Aire, witnessed the unraveling of his family and his own sanity after his sister disappeared at the age of seven. Twenty years later, on coming home to care for his ailing mother, Aire determines to "ravel" the threads of what happened to his sister and his family. Aire is hampered by his know-it-all older brother, a neurosurgeon, and doubts about his own mental competence, as he swings in and out of psychotic episodes and suicidal longings. The reader is constantly baffled by whether the chilling revelations uncovered by this unreliable narrator are to be believed. The quicksilver changes in Aire's thinking about what happened to his little sister, and who is responsible, and the zigzagging of the plot from past to present to Aire's own no-man's land of doubt and grief make this a challenging thriller. --Connie Fletcher

Publisher's Weekly Review

This first novel depends a great deal on gimmicks. The hero, from whose disturbed point of view much of the story is told, is the oddly named Pilot Airie (his father was an airline pilot). Diagnosed as a schizophrenic, his life has been off the rails ever since his younger sister, Fiona, disappeared mysteriously during a drunken party his parents threw during his childhood. His older brother, Eric, is a cool, collected neurosurgeon; his mother is a quondam medical specialist, whose eyesight seems to be unaccountably vanishing and whose mental state is increasingly disoriented. The overriding question, to which an attractive young psychotherapist, the elaborately named Katherine Jane De Quincey-Joy, must address herself, as she treats Pilot and begins an affair with Eric, is: whatever happened to Fiona 20 years ago, and can she do anything about it? The problem with much of this fitfully gripping, but just as often irritating, book is that much of the action is seen through Pilot's eyes, and he is a notoriously unreliable witness; he also appears to be omnipresent and all-knowing, which makes him a convenient substitute for the author. There is some vivid writing, and a certain eerie atmosphere is created around this weird family. But Moore Smith seems so intent on tricking the readerÄinnumerable red herrings are cast before us as to the real guilt in Fiona's disappearanceÄthat one tends to lose patience with the whole proceeding. When even the dead Fiona is granted a narrative voice, briefly, about her grisly demise, it seems that authorial license has overrun the mark. Moore Smith has talentÄhis evocation of the trauma created over the years by Fiona's fate is tellingÄbut his book is too disorganized and ill-focused to be an effective thriller, and too determined to provide some lurid chills to be the imaginative literary fiction it aspires to. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Though revolving around the 20-year-old unsolved disappearance of a young girl, Smith's exceptional first novel is foremost a tale of family. Since his sister's vanishing, diagnosed schizophrenic Pilot Airie has had plenty of time to question his sanity and wonder if he truly recalls what happened on the evening of her disappearance. With the help of Katherine, the psychologist appointed to help him after a recent episode, Pilot attempts to remember that fateful night to begin his own healing process. While Pilot's account is the centerpiece of the story, each member of his family must undergo a catharsis: the control-freak brother, the mother who can't accept the breakup of her family, and the distant father who can't stop blaming himself for his daughter's disappearance. This wonderfully simple, engaging, and well-written story deserves a spot in public library fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/00.]--Craig Shufelt, Gladwin Cty. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Excerpt Ordinarily at this hour my brother, Eric, would have been at his desk eating his usual Bavarian ham and brie on a wheat baguette, his cup of pumpkin soup, not too hot, a brown pear, slightly ripe, more crisp than soft. Ordinarily, as I said. But today at lunch he stood in his sterile, white-tiled, gleaming-steel-and-bright-fluorescent examining room with our mother, Hannah, who had been seeing ghosts. "I've been seeing ghosts," she complained. She had said it this morning, too, when Eric had come by our house to make coffee and eggs, if I wanted them, as he had almost every day for several weeks now, to check on me, to make sure I wasn't any more suicidal than usual. Eric had told our mother to visit his office at lunchtime, that he would take a look. This was their intimacy: her acknowledging his authority, Eric's nonchalant acceptance of our mother's acknowledgment. This was the love between them. "All right." Eric laughed. "Mom's nuts." She touched the crinkly paper that covered his green vinyl examining table, absently tearing it between her long, fragile, blue-veined fingers. She was not even aware of this, her actions having become disconnected from her thoughts long ago. "It's like on television," she said. "You know how on television sometimes there's an image, like, like Bugs Bunny or something, and right next to him there's a ghost of that image, like an entirely different Bugs Bunny?" Her face was pale, more than usual. A blue-purple vein ran beneath the skin of her temple like a trickle of red wine. "Sure," my brother said, somewhat bemused. "That's what I've been seeing." Almost imperceptibly, the vein in her temple pulsed. It had grown more prominent in recent years, Eric noticed, her skin whiter, finer, more transparent. She'd become ghostlike herself. "You're seeing double," he said. "With televisions that's called a double signal." This was descriptive only, not a diagnosis. And somewhat dismissive. Our mother folded her arms. "Except, my young Dr. Airie, I know which image is real and which one isn't." She was proud, it seemed, her thin lips set. "Bugs Bunny isn't real, Mom." She giggled, rolled her eyes. "Eric." "Are you seeing a double image right now?" "Not now," she said firmly. "Just sometimes." "Hmmm." Eric, a doctor, my big brother, a fucking brain surgeon, wore a white lab coat. Beneath it, a pale blue cotton shirt monogrammed with the initials ERA, the E slightly larger, for Eric Richard Airie. He also wore a deep blue tie - silk, of course - with an elegant pattern of fleur-de-lis in gold thread. Hannah, his mother, our mother, wore a soft suede jacket, chocolate brown, a beige linen skirt, Italian leather boots. Outside, it was sweater weather, early fall. Another Labor Day had come and gone. "That could be her eyes," Eric suggested, as if speaking to another doctor in the room, as if anyone else were listening. He walked to the wall, turned off the lights, and removed a small black penlight from his lab-coat pocket. "Have you been to the optometrist, to, uh, Dr. Carewater - isn't that his name?" He aimed it directly into our mother's pupils, one after the other, watching them dilate, and on his face was a well-mannered look of medical concern. She blinked. "I thought of that." Hannah, a physical therapist, a hand specialist, would have known if it were her eyes. "My eyes are fine," she insisted. "A little myopia never caused this kind of trouble. Besides, it comes and it goes." She repeated herself now, saying, "it comes and it goes, it comes and it goes, it comes and it goes," turning the words into a song. "Okay." Eric sucked his teeth. "It could just be that you're crossing your eyes for some reason." He walked to the wall and flicked the lights back on. His sandwich was waiting at his desk. The pumpkin soup, was it getting cold? "Can you remember when it happens? I mean, does it happen when you're coming out of a dark room and into a bright one? Does it happen when you wake up, after your eyes have been closed for a long time?" He was looking for information, clues that would lead to an explanation, data upon which to configure a theory. He was rubbing his hands together. He was growing impatient, too, hungrier by the second. "Let me think." They gave the examining room over to silence for a moment, and Eric looked at his clean, hairless fingers. Hannah tore at the paper on the examining table. Then she said, "During the day. I'll be thinking, thinking about something, I suppose, and then I, and then I just realize that I'm seeing a ghost." "You just realize it." "It suddenly occurs to me that I've been seeing one." "Thinking about what, specifically?" Our mother paused again, eyes unfocused, and then she made her characteristic statement. "Just lost, dear, just lost in my thoughts." She had abandoned the crinkly paper and was now stroking the suede of her new brown jacket, combing it in the direction of the nap. When our mother wears something new, she beams, her face joyful - radiant as a young nun's. "And there's Pilot," she said softly, her expression dropping. "I've been thinking about your brother." I am Pilot. I am Pilot James Airie, Eric's brother, younger by five years, named after our father's passion - he flew for the airlines - a profession I have never even considered for myself. Eric moved to the sink and pulled up his sleeves. Ever since he had gone to medical school, he washed his hands compulsively, repeatedly, even at home. Ever since medical school, he had been aware of the risks, the bacteria and bacilli, the microbes thriving just out of sight. "There's always Pilot," he agreed. Once, there was Fiona, too. Fiona May Airie, our sister. Our mother hummed. It was a song no one had ever heard before, one that she made up every time she hummed it. It was, I believe, her way of trying to reassure Eric. She seemed always just on the verge of paying attention, her mind ready to wander away, her gray-green eyes unfocused and hazy. Humming underscored this quality, and it made Eric crazy. It makes everyone crazy. I know, because I do it, too. "Are you disoriented?" Eric asked, his tone saying, Look at me, listen. "Now?" He sighed. "When you're seeing these ghosts." "Disoriented?" "I mean," he laughed softly, "more than usual?" She sang, "Don't be cruel." "Seriously." "Disoriented," our mother acknowledged. "Yes." "Tired?" "Tired," she admitted. "Yes, yes, that, too." "Are you sleeping?" "Not so well." "Are you, have you been talking to Dad?" "Your father is lost -" "- in the wild blue yonder." Eric narrowed his eyes. He had heard our mother say this a billion times. "I know," he said. When she spoke to our father, which was seldom, Hannah became lovesick, unfocused, a teenage girl pining for her boyfriend. She hummed again, a slight smile on her lips. "What about caffeine?" "I only drink tea, dear, you know that." "No coffee?" This was a stupid question, her face told him. "Don't be ridiculous." "Okay." Eric dried his hands and threw the paper towel into the mesh chrome wastebasket in the corner. Our mother's hair, which was becoming gray, which until so very recently had been light chestnut, soft as mink, fell in uneven curls around her elegant face. It was a feminine face, a doll's face, all too easy to see hurt in. It is my face, too, a patient's face, a waiting-room face, transforming everyone who looks at it into a doctor. When I am alone, my face disappears, and I have no face at all. In someone's presence, especially Eric's or my father's, I am all face and no insides, I am a network of tiny muscles and porcelain skin stretched over a surface of cartilage, bone, and teeth. She pushed her hair away. "Can you try to worry less?" Our mother laughed. "About Pilot?" "About Pilot, about Dad." He took a step toward her. "About everything." "I don't worry about you." She placed a hand on his cheek, her fingers cool. It was always disappointing to Eric, but this is the temperature of women's hands. "Please?" "I can try." She sang, "I can try, I can try, I can try." "Next time you're seeing the ghosts," he said, "give me a call, describe them." Eric took a deep breath. "But now I have a patient coming, a real one." He had food waiting - the sandwich, the soup - no doubt it had grown cold. "Not that you aren't real, Mom." "I'm already gone." Our mother touched her jacket, stroking the nap of the suede downward, as though petting a cat. "Thank you, honey." She gave my brother a swift kiss and clutched his hands, squeezing his fingers in a motherly way that means something about holding on, about not letting go, about regret. Only mothers can do this, I've noticed. Or old girlfriends. Eric watched her leave the room, her voluminous beige linen skirt sweeping the sterile air behind her. I imagine that he washed his hands once more because she had touched them and that he looked up to see his own movie-star, brain-surgeon face in the mirror above the sink. Copyright © 2000 Peter Moore Smith. All rights reserved.