Whoa that's creepy! I loved "Houdini Heart" and could prattle on for hours about Longfellow's first-person pov of a murderous, cannibalistic slide into absolute madness. But before reviewing the book, I need to brush up on my Windigo/Wendigo mythology (thanks Wikipedia!):
"The Wendigo is part of the traditional belief systems of various Algonquian-speaking tribes in the northern United States and Canada, most notably the Ojibwe and Saulteaux, the Cree, the Naskapi and the Innu people.Though descriptions varied somewhat, common to all these cultures was the conception of Wendigos as malevolent, cannibalistic, supernatural beings (manitous) of great spiritual power. ... At the same time, Wendigos were embodiments of gluttony, greed, and excess: never satisfied after killing and consuming one person, they were constantly searching for new victims. In some traditions, humans who became overpowered by greed could turn into Wendigos; the Wendigo myth thus served as a method of encouraging cooperation and moderation. ... All cultures in which the Wendigo myth appeared shared the belief that human beings could turn into Wendigos if they ever resorted to cannibalism or, alternatively, become possessed by the demonic spirit of a Wendigo, often in a dream. Once transformed, a person would become violent and obsessed with eating human flesh. The most frequent cause of transformation into a Wendigo was if a person had resorted to cannibalism, consuming the body of another human in order to keep from starving to death during a time of extreme hardship or famine."
This definition helps me better understand what the hell I've just experienced.
What is the reality of "Houdini Heart" anyway? The narrator has no clue: "Given a moment of thought, what the hell is absolute reality? Reality, pure or impure, certain or uncertain, is an illusion. So too is insanity. Perhaps death is the ultimate illusion. Perhaps I am already dead." I can't be certain if she's alive or dead either. She appears to be called through a seance from the past, during Harry Houdini's lifetime (1920s?). Is her experience of the seance real or the product of an insanity-laden mind? Once again, the narrator expresses great confusion: "If the past haunts the future; can the future haunt the past?"
Longfellow spends the entire novel blurring the lines between real and imaginary; light and dark; past, present and future; sanity and insanity; heaven and hell. She appears to maintain a distinction between the narrator's real life and the world of her successful novel "The Windigo's Daughter" by putting book excerpts in italics. But then Longfellow has to go and blur the line between life and story as the narrator realizes: "I am the Windigo’s Daughter." The Wendigo book narrative loses the italics for a moment, and then the narrator's life becomes the Wendigo story, italics and all. Life and story intermingle, finally becoming indistinguishable. Is it the final victory of insanity? Death? Having murdered and cannibalized her husband by eating his heart and tossing his severed head into the pond where their daughter Kate drowned, she has finally become the Wendigo's daughter, slipping over the edge into the realm of dark myth. Or is it reality?
The narrator's husband considered her his "Houdini Heart": "He thought I hid keys under my tongue. He thought I could dislocate my shoulders. He thought I could hold my breath forever. He thought I could wriggle my way out of anything. He counted on it." In the end, she does "wriggle" out of her immediate situation by becoming the character of the Wendigo's Daughter, by erasing completely the line between reality and her imagination. Does her killing spree continue with even more gusto as she embraces her inner Wendigo? Does she die? Disappear? End up in an asylum? Whatever happens, I have a feeling it'll be creepy and demented. Houdini Heart's elusive story is nowhere near finished.