‘This is All He Asks of You’: La Jollan’s debut novel focuses on connection to nature and humanity
“I swim in the air
It’s thick like water.
I lean forward into it, and it carries me.
The air holds me and moves me.
It is in me and around me, and I swim-fly in it.”
So writes Luna, the central character in La Jolla resident Anne Egseth’s debut novel, “This is All He Asks of You.”
In the book, released June 1, readers meet Luna when she is 12 years old, with a “quirky way of seeing the world” that centers on imagination, and then again at 22 as she reflects on the importance of human connection.
Throughout the tale, Luna writes letters to the father she never knew, detailing her day-to-day life. In describing her house in Washington, D.C., she writes that there is “a corner in our backyard with a big rock. … Overhanging branches reach into our yard from the neighbor’s side. I’m not sure what the tree is called. It has large thorns and its branches are twisted and crooked like an old witch’s arms and fingers. … I picked the fruit and took them to my bedroom yesterday. The orangey-lemony smell fills the whole top floor of our house.”
Luna also observes that adults say one thing, think another and do yet another.
“One thing that is special about Luna is she perceives light in nature or in people, but her mom is very pragmatic and sees her daughter as spiritual and weird,” Egseth said. “She thinks it’s not good to be in this fantasy world. But for Luna it is very real. I guess you could say she is highly sensitive and imaginative, which can be demanding for a parent or a teacher when they seek conformity in some way.”
Luna also embraces those who are different from her, including a Vietnam War vet.
“This girl is extremely empathetic, and I guess there is something about empathy that we really need,” Egseth said. “She develops friendships with people that are different, so part of the message is treating people kindly that we perceive as different — break down those prejudices. We are all trying to develop understanding and empathy.”
When readers meet Luna again at 22, she receives a parcel with all the letters she wrote to her father but never sent.
“She realizes she has lost a bit of that light and sensitivity,” Egseth said. “She lives life less intensely and seeks to reclaim what she had as a child.”
Living in Norway as an adult, Luna goes to find her father, and the experience is not what she thinks it would be.
Egseth grew up in Norway and lived in Washington, D.C., where she was a classically trained actress and a writer for children’s theater.
“When I had a child of my own, I wasn’t able to work so much in theater, so this became my creative outlet,” Egseth said. “Writing became my way of understanding the world around me. It became a way to stay awake to what is going on. I had to process how I felt about certain things and go deeper into issues to put it into writing. It’s a way to dialogue with the world.”
She was further inspired by her daughter and her connection to nature.
“When my girl was very little, I remember sitting in our backyard and she said, ‘The trees are talking to me.’ I thought she was imagining things, but as I tried to think of things the way she does, I remember having a similar connection to nature,” Egseth said. “How a child experiences the world so strongly and the way things feel to children has been awakened through watching my girl and seeing the world through her eyes and the innocence there. Luna is different from my child, but there is an innocence they share.”
At 152 pages, the book was written “like a long poem” with unembellished language to represent the child’s perspective, the author said.
Its central theme of human connection is “timely because human connection is harder these days with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Egseth said. “But through this we can remember how healing and nourishing human connection is. Now more so than ever.” ◆
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