Once You Go Back by Douglas A. Martin

Seven Stories Press, 2009
“Pretend you are my sister.” This is the first line in Douglas A. Martin’s novel. How could you not be captivated by that bold choice of form? From that moment on, as a reader, you are the narrator’s sister. You become her, you live and breathe the events that happen to her, all while feeling the pain the narrator must undergo and the loneliness that has been inflicted upon him during his childhood. And then young adulthood. And then adulthood. 

Martin writes, on page 22, “There’s a picture we were partial to even then, of the three of us. In the water, in Vera’s pool, we are all on our blacks floating. You and I are small, and Tammy so much bigger. She has one of us on either side of her, arms under us under the water, and, slowly as we learned to trust her, she’d lower her arms out from under us. If we didn’t panic, we’d stay up.” The imagery Martin uses is enough to captivate and hold onto the interest of the reader, allowing them to envision themselves in the pool, as the sister, and with the narrator. Not only that, but it is hard not to wonder if this summer scenario isn’t a prelude to the trust the narrator longs to feel within someone else. The trust he seems to have none of, in a family of dysfunction.

This novel is a gripping story about trust, family, loneliness, and displacement. How to survive in a family that more or less does not accept you for who you are, in a town where people point and single you out, in a town where people constantly question you as a person based on your sexuality or for any other reason you cannot seem to understand. This novel is for anyone who ever felt lonely, for anyone who ever felt like they did not belong. How to overcome that loneliness and suffering is for you to decide as a reader, for you to decide as the narrator’s sister, for you to decide in feeling as though the narrator’s pain is, in fact, your pain after all. 

KRISTINA LEPAGE is currently a senior at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York, and majoring in English Literature. She is an active member of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society. In the fall she will begin working as the Prose Editor of Vox Arts & Literary Magazine at Pace. She hopes to go to school for her M.F.A in Creative Writing after she graduates from Pace, and plans on pursuing a career in creative writing and/or editing. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing, watching and studying films, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.