"Matthew Harken's urgent questions about his friend Anna's suicide and his own critical illness compel him to risk a perilous, spiritual quest. His heartrending, heart-opening journey through the interwoven worlds of memory, dream, and shamanic magic lead him not only to visions of Anna but to visions of grace. This passionate, poignant novel stands alone strongly and invites us deeper into the mystery of The Afterlife Trilogy."
-Elizabeth Cunningham, author of The Maeve Chronicles.
Visions of Anna by Richard Engling is the story of Matthew Harken who discovers he has terminal cancer. Ill-prepared to meet his death, he makes a pilgrimage to the scene of the suicide of his dearest friend, Anna. He has the irrational hope that by investigating her death, he may be able to see into the world of the dead.
The novel moves through time, showing us scenes from Matthew and Anna's lives. We see them as young writers together in Paris. We see Matthew's heady experiences in Hollywood as his success as a screenwriter grows. We come to understand Anna's driven, fascinating, twisted soul through her journals, her magical practices and her love affairs.
With the aid of a Native American shaman and an ex-lover, Matthew reclaims his life and puts to rest the ghost of his friend. In a long and intense ritual, they free her soul from the pain that bound her to the earth.
Visions of Anna is a sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing work of contemporary American magic realism. It's a story of sex, psychology, art, Hollywood, the Holocaust, reincarnation and love.
We recommend that readers read Visions of Anna as the first work of the trilogy. Although it was the second novel to have been written, it creates a context for the trilogy as a whole. The reader is introduced to the character of Anna who was inspired by Fern Chertkow, followed by reading the book written by Fern herself, and following that to see the most recent work, the play Anna in the Afterlife.
Purchase VISIONS OF ANNA by Richard Engling from Polarity Ensemble Theatre Books. $14.95 plus $5.00 shipping.
"She Plays in Darkness is an exquisitely beautiful and haunting novel filled with such fully developed characters that readers will not soon forget them. This is a book to cherish, to re-read, the kind of novel that avoids sentimentality so fiercely that readers will give copies to their friends and tell them, 'Read this, this is a how a woman's life truly is.'"
-Tony Ardizzone, author of The Whale Chaser
In Fern Chertkow's She Plays in Darkness, a pair of identical twins decide to live separately for the first time. Without each other's presence and support, they veer into disastrous relationships and self-destructive behavior. The main character, Cynthia, moves to a new town and finds work as a secretary in a law firm. Her real love is art, but she spends less time painting and more time drinking and imagining love affairs. She gets caught up in the trivial world of the secretarial pool and in her elaborate fantasies about a homeless man.
The longer she is apart from her twin, Rosemary, the more she feels a part of herself is missing. She tries to fill the emptiness by having an affair with one of the lawyers who is married and confined to a wheelchair. Cynthia learns her twin has been murdered by a casual lover, a stranger she picked up on the road. She feels profoundly abandoned. Cynthia invites the homeless man about whom she has been fantasizing into her car and drives away with him, perhaps to her death. She Plays in Darkness is a lyrical book about love, dependence, obsession and self-destruction.
Disturbingly prophetic and brimming with lyrical prose, She Plays in Darkness is the earliest of the trilogy's works, written by Chertkow just a few years before her death. Chertkow infused much of herself in the lead characters, twins Cynthia and Rosemary, slowly revealing a self-destructiveness that echoes the mystery of her suicide explored in Visions of Anna and Anna in the Afterlife.
Purchase SHE PLAYS IN DARKNESS by Fern Chertkow from Polarity Ensemble Theatre Books. $14.95 plus $5.00 shipping.
In the play Anna in the Afterlife by Richard Engling, novelist Matthew Harken finds himself in an afterlife world where he's not quite alive and not quite dead. While his body is being worked on by surgeons, Matthew must decide whether or not to return to the living. He discovers his dear friend and fellow novelist Anna Toyevsky has split into three separate beings. Is that a result of her suicide? He is visited by other friends who have passed on, and he witnesses scenes from his life. He discovers that even in the afterlife, you cannot always trust everyone you know.
Anna in the Afterlife went through an in-depth development process since first appearing in Polarity's 2011 Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays. Directed by Susan Padveen, it will perform at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, April 23 through May 24, 2015.
Polarity Ensemble Theatre is planning a series of book launch events and events in connection with Anna in the Afterlife specially designed for book club members partaking in the full Afterlife Trilogy experience. for details and for a preview of the works.
Richard Engling is the co-founder and artistic director of Polarity Ensemble Theatre. He is an actor, director, playwright, novelist and musician.
Purchase both VISIONS OF ANNA and SHE PLAYS IN DARKNESS from Polarity Ensemble Theatre Books. $29.90 plus $5.00 shipping.