All Is Beauty Now


By Sarah Faber

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Set against the seductive world of 1960s Rio de Janeiro, an exquisite debut novel about family secrets, divided loyalties, and what we’re willing to do to save ourselves.

This mesmerizing first novel follows a glamorous family as they prepare to leave the seeming paradise of Brazil for Canada in the wake to the mysterious disappearance — and presumed drowning — of their eldest daughter a year earlier. As the novel moves back and forth between the members of the Maurer family, we are taken into the heart of a family whose beauty and charm belie a more troubling reality.

We meet the family’s brilliant and charismatic father, whose bipolar extremes are becoming increasingly disturbing; his long-suffering wife, who once had a brief affair that proves to have shattering consequences for the family she swore to protect; their two remaining daughters, both on the brink of understanding the darker currents that run in their once-proud family; and the lost daughter herself, a beautiful young woman undone by her own grand delusions.

Taking readers from the golden beaches of Rio to the poverty of its fishing villages, from the glamour of the legendary Copacabana Club to the austerity of a remote convent, this revelatory novel takes us into the soul of a family already living in the shadow of loss and now poised to leave behind everything they’ve ever known, if only they could make peace with the past.


The day Luiza disappeared was as bright and hot as any other that summer, and although most of us were at the beach, no one saw anything, even if many of us would later claim we had. Such a curious thing—everybody wanting to be a part of it. We thought she was swimming out awfully far, and said so to one another afterwards. We were sure we heard splashing. Why didn't we do anything at the time? She was such a strong swimmer, and it was so calm. She was twenty years old, no longer a girl. We thought—

The air changed, became heavier, suspending the gulls above us. Water roared in our ears, muffling the sound of someone calling out. This is what we would say, most of us, whenever we told the story. Even the sky was different. Not storm clouds, grey-gathered in warning, but silver, brighter than any of us could remember, flashing off the water almost painfully. Mist reflecting the white sun. We squinted against it and finally made out a voice, more insistent—her youngest sister, Evie, calling out again from the rock pools, the stick she held still jammed in the sand, and she ran toward us, pointing. We all followed the child's gaze out to sea, then had to turn our eyes away, blinded briefly by the scattered light.

But there's no one there! someone said finally.

I can't see a thing.

My god. She's right. Luiza's not there.

Some of us waded out into the water, then swam toward the empty horizon, while the rest stood on the beach, unsure of what to do. Evie ran to those still asleep on towels and bleached beach chairs, fell into a crouch, and shook them awake, still calling her sister's name. It was strange to hear her voice, so loud and piercing, because she was the shy one, always lost in her own little world. She soon gave up on us and sprinted back to the rocks, crying out for her other sister, Magda, sharp and angular, always scowling.

Luiza's not there anymore!

Magda leapt down from the boulder, spraying sand. Soon they were both crying. A few of us ran the length of beach to see if maybe Luiza had been pulled along by the current. We stared out over the water, imposing a tiny dark shape onto the brilliant haze, the arc of diminutive arms. But there was nothing, just empty, dazzling space.

Eventually, her parents arrived and Hugo fell to his knees, his great body heaving in the sand. Dora remained standing, resting her hand on his shoulder; we always said she was his buttress against himself. In the hours that followed, she stayed calm and asked questions, but her lovely face was warped by fear. Then the police and an ambulance came, just in case. And us, murmuring, hearts thudding, shaking sand from our towels to cover their warm, trembling arms.

Later, someone would say they saw a vulture circling in the distant sky.

We sent our maids with food to the family's home in Villa Confederação, and we visited for a time, embracing them and clasping their hands. But then we stayed away—surely, we whispered, they needed time alone. But the truth was that Hugo frightened us. His tall, wasting body, his feral stare. Yet we continued to drive past their house, surrounded like our own by eight-foot stone walls embedded with broken glass and barbed wire; its gate locked, doors bolted, the windows with bars, decorative and invulnerable, because like us, they had once found footprints in the flower beds outside their bedrooms.

We imagine walking through their gardens as we had at their parties so many times before, and there we see Luiza leaning against the trunk of a schefflera. We follow her, weaving through firs, hibiscus, the pink-studded branches of the silk-floss tree. She was always a bit odd, too serious—she sometimes seemed to swallow anxiously at nothing, then look around quickly, hoping no one had noticed. Or maybe hoping they had? At parties, she was more comfortable with children, braiding tattered flowers into their hair. So earnest! we said, fatigued by her affectations: her scribbling in journals and her mannered speech, the way she wore her grandmother's ratty white gloves everywhere. But some of us thought we loved her for them. For others, it was Hugo—the handsome Canadian expat, once all limbs and laughter—whom we loved for his easy charm and inextinguishable energy, whipped up and transmitted through us like light. Others among us have loved Dora all our lives, and admired her proud beauty, even as she drove around the neighbourhood in that noisy little Simca. She was one of us, a descendant of the Confederados, who fled in defeat from Alabama after the American Civil War to Brazil, where they licked their wounds and prospered. Our ancestors, Baptists and Methodists, brought clean churches to this superstitious place and woke the echoes with their hymns. Peasants here farm with ploughs now, which they never would have had in this backward country if not for our people.

Together, Hugo and Dora were the golden ones in our small community. Ever since those early years when they wore nothing but white and danced at the Copacabana, Hugo pulling her up onto the tabletops to join him, and Dora shaking confetti from her hair while we watched them dance aloft. Him, laughing easily, his fist crammed with bills won from the Jockey Club. Her at the beach, lacquered nails against the lichen of craggy seaside rocks, looking out at the white sea shedding haze. He brought out the best in her, warm flickers of joy, and somehow it mattered to us that she stayed with him through everything, haughtily selfless. That remarkable family. Not so golden anymore.

They had been scheduled to sail for Canada within days when Luiza disappeared. Would Dora still move her family away? Theirs had been the life—such a life! Until the vultures circled the shore, and seeing something, they dove…

—Why say such an unkind thing?

—Yes, stop that! Why must we always try to make stories about dead girls into something lurid.

—It was a terrible accident, nothing more.

—But was it really? An accident? My maid swears she saw her all alone on the tram. And this was the day of their goodbye party. And she was crying!

—Oh, everyone but her parents knew she was up to something.

—It's true. Such troubled people.

—What a dreadful thing. What awful people we are.

But some of us can't stop ourselves. We say it's retribution for too much shine, too many flowers. So much fruit. We heard Luiza was ashamed of us. All her mother's money from diamond mines and sugar plantations, and her ashamed of us! Drunk once at a party (her parents had always indulged her), she said we might as well still be slaveholders for what little we paid them—our chauffeurs and maids, the babás who raised our children—as though condemning herself as well made it all right. Her mother, embarrassed, apologized and took her home. But things soon got worse. She gets it from him, we whispered. It was bound to happen. When people are that beautiful, the rot is on the inside.

And yet sometimes we walk along the beach, searching for a sign, imagining we will be the ones to find her. Each time, we are frightened and a little hopeful that maybe we could ease their pain. We pity them, wondering which hell is worse—knowing, or not knowing. Finding, or not finding.

We loved them—we still do. But they've long been lost to us. They stepped outside themselves for a time, just long enough to let us in, to subdue our bristling need, before retreating back into their family's embrace, and behind their walls. We were not enough for them. Fallen, they are still our betters.

And if we found Luiza, would she be bloated and blue, face eaten away by sea animals? Or by now would she be nothing but a bleached heap of frail bones, sun-stripped? Who among us could stomach it, to wrap some part of her in fine cloth and take her home? Something to lay to rest, we would say in hushed, ragged tones. We couldn't bear it, to be the ones to mark the end of their age. But then we could truly embrace them, even the men among us, because we do that here. We feel that much.

Yes, they belong here, with us: the embodiment of our brightest selves flashing in the night. If they go, we dim and grow smaller. And they become mortal after all.

— I —



There has been no funeral because there is no body. The police searched and telephoned and apologized and were kind, but no trace was ever found. And yet Dora needs to bury something, some object of Luiza's, so they'll have a place to return to someday, to clutch at the soil and pretend she is there, beneath them.

Now, finally, almost a year later, she and Hugo stand on one side of the empty grave while everyone else stands on the other, facing them, as though they might have some idea of what to do next. Evie and Magda are with the maids, who have come—of course they have!—despite being given the day off. And yet Dora finds herself staring meaningfully at Maricota, who is openly weeping, too upset to notice how Evie, seeming so much younger than her twelve years, is peeling apart the lily she was given to hold for the ceremony. She rubs the petals between her thumb and forefinger, then holds them up to the sun, peering through their crushed, now-translucent segments.

How much will they suffer? Please, not too much. Evie in particular, with her clear, deep feelings, has been afflicted in some ineffable way. Already dishevelled though it's not yet midday, with her plaits too loose, dirty fingernails, legs mottled with different-hued bruises. Reckless, like Luiza. Always feathery and odd, lately she's been running off, looking almost hunted as she disappears into hidden corners of the garden and creeps along its walled perimeter. She's virtually skinless, inchoate; her little magpie heart still seeking out something shiny in this sad place. She might ache forever, Dora supposes. Yes, she will suffer the most.

Though a year older, Magda is shorter than Evie, and compact, muscular. Neatly dressed and rigid as a cadet, she moves only occasionally and deftly to snatch some inappropriate diversion from Evie—the macerated lily, a thread pulled from her hem. Dora knows Magda will suffer too; she is unyielding, and hasn't yet learned to pretend for others' sake. She doesn't permit even well-meaning lies. She's difficult for adults to like, though children usually fear her, which is something. At thirteen, she is all switches and thorns. And she's the better for it.

But Hugo—he feels more than all of them.

Dora stands beneath the canopy of palm trees and soft-needled pines, vaguely grateful for their shade, her eyes skimming over the complicated root network of a nearby fig tree. Luiza would have said it was like something out of a fairy tale. Off to the side, rows of weathered grey tombstones in marble and soapstone, sprouting moss and etched with names like McKnight, Thomas, Baird. An anemic ceremony at the Campinas Cemetery, even though Hugo thinks it's meaningless because they don't go to church, and shouldn't God disdain those who only seek him out in times of grief?

And it's true that even Dora has never cared for this cemetery, for its annual festival when descendants of the Confederados come dressed in hoop skirts and Confederate uniforms to gaze out upon the sugarcane fields and rows of tombstones, disgorge some dour Revival hymn, then lay out dishes of fried chicken and cornbread, peach pie and sweet tea, conjuring Alabama. Regret, nostalgia—so much longing for a place that never was.

'Why?' Hugo asked a few days before when she had announced her plans for the ceremony, and he had objected, with almost mechanical disdain, to the location. 'We don't believe in all that nonsense, and Luiza certainly didn't. That place is poisoned.' He couldn't even look at her, his long body seeming prematurely caved in, readied for blows.

She knows that the ceremony means little to him, that a few graveside hymns won't change anything: he hasn't accepted that Luiza is gone. None of them has. But there has to be somewhere to put all this confusion, still unexpressed. Inexpressible. A ritual that can give it shape. Maybe the ceremony will ignite in her the strength she needs to unshutter her family, gather them up, take them away. They had been so close to leaving for Canada last year, and then—. Now, for the second time, Dora must organize useless items into meaningless piles, contact old friends, arrange more goodbye parties, get on a ship at last. Go. For his sake. For all their sakes. Still, Luiza presses in upon their every thought, whispering in their ears. They have to have a place to put her. To find her.

No one actually saw Luiza disappear in the water, even though there were several people at the beach: the McMullans, the Dawseys, the dentist and his sister visiting from Santarém. The Dawsey boy said that Luiza had helped him bury his father in the sand and laughed when he added 'girl parts.' Someone else said she ate half a sandwich quickly, then offered up the rest. She read a few pages of her book but told the kind dentist that she couldn't get into it.

'Tacitus,' she said rather sadly, he thought. But then she laughed. 'Who wants to think about Rome burning in this heat?'

Soon after that, she drifted off to sleep while Evie and Magda turned their attention toward her, entombing her twitching feet again and again. She started a little when she woke, smiled at them, and thanked her sisters for being so good, for not going in the water alone as they'd promised. She caught the eye of Mrs. Buchanan, who winked and said, 'I'll watch them, querida.'

Dora knows all this even though she wasn't there. (Why wasn't she there?) Others have described the scene to her and Hugo over and over, as though it were some mystery that could be solved through repetition. As though perhaps Luiza had simply drifted away, carried out by the tide and all these stories. For months, Dora collected these varying accounts, telling herself that maybe the details would accrete, eventually shaping a whole story. Tell them where Luiza would wash up. She might be exhausted from fighting the tide and trying to swim back in, maybe a little bruised from tumbling ashore, the crotch of her swimsuit filled with sand the way it used to when she was a girl. But Luiza would come back to them with the waves that broke on the shore, terrified but otherwise unharmed.

Blood roars in her ears now. At least, Dora tells herself, it all happened quickly. She's heard that drowning is a peaceful death, once you let go. (But how could that be? And who would know? And who would ever really let go? Not Luiza.) But something else plagues her. Had there been signs, unusual behaviour? Dora sometimes thought so. Luiza grimacing as she pored over new books, as though hoping to extract something vital. Going out more often and alone, then shutting herself in her room for hours. Was she worried about the move? Lonely? Or maybe the opposite—was there a boyfriend? Boys often called the house for her, but she always told Dora she was bored by them, that they were too immature. It hurts too much to think of her being lonely. Alone in the water. No. Push it away.

They had been about to leave Brazil—did any of them need excuses to be unsettled? It was her daughter's temperament to be dreamy, distracted. How many times had Luiza forgotten the kettle until it boiled dry, or left a bathtub to overflow? She lived in a near-constant reverie, so careless with herself. Only because she was so beautiful did people fail to notice, or pretend not to: torn stockings, missing buttons. Two holes in the back collar of her dresses from where she'd hastily torn out the labels, rather than simply asking one of the maids to use the seam ripper. Thoughtless, headstrong girl. But Dora had been grateful, in some ways, for her daughter's pretenses, her solemn air and lost buttons. She was too beautiful and the awkwardness tempered it a little, put men off.

And yet, for years, Dora's stomach contracted, bathed in acid, waiting for the injuries, the ruination of Luiza's lovely body: the fall off a cliff's edge when she had wanted to smell the sea air; the car crash after something roadside and gleaming had caught her eye. She was that kind of person. Surely it was just a terrible accident.

Dora has to once again hold back images of Luiza afraid, choking on water, reaching out. She knows her eldest daughter tried to be responsible that day, catching Mrs. Buchanan's eye, making sure someone was watching the girls. But some days she finds herself almost blaming Luiza. For being so sure of herself, so cocky, for always swimming too far out even when they called to her from the shore.

Come back!

Once, when Luiza was little, Dora slapped her for not listening, for swimming too far. The child stood there with water streaming down her face and over her red cheeks. 'Those aren't tears,' she said. 'I'm not sorry.'

I am sorry, I am sorry. The words repeat in Dora's head. Maybe they should have waited for one more day. What if Luiza were to come back today and see that they are trying to bury her? Today might be the day she finds her way home. But that is what Dora has told herself every day for the past eleven months. So her mind practises: She is not coming back.

Dora looks at her family, trying to will herself to adjust to Luiza's absence. Whenever they're all together, her mind fills in the ever-widening aperture where Luiza used to be. Unconsciously, she projects Luiza into that space, several inches below Hugo, smiling in a way that Dora recognizes as strained, preoccupied. (Yes, something was different before she vanished. Something about her had altered.) Now she struggles to see them as they are, without Luiza: three and not four; a man and two young, graceless girls; the other, most beautiful one erased. But again, the excision fails; her brain won't submit. Luiza is there, in partial shade, indistinct at the edges but not gone.

No, the ceremony must be today because they can't stay here much longer. For years, a great momentum has been building beneath the surface of their lives, pushing them inexorably toward elsewhere. Away. And it had begun long before Luiza disappeared.

In some corner of her mind, a petulant voice asserts that anyone not here today will be scratched off any future list of invitees. But when she scans the blurred faces in front of her (oh, she is nearly crying again!), she realizes they have all come. Even Carmichael, who she hasn't seen in almost a year. And they've all dressed beautifully, and brought flowers.

'Having an English mother has conditioned you to expect too little from people,' Hugo used to tell her. And it's true that Brazilians—warm and demonstrative—still surprise her. Cab drivers will weep upon hearing your sad story, servants will embrace (and chastise) you. Even in this transplanted, anglophone community, people are good and affectionate and kind. This community of friends and neighbours who have all come to offer up their memories, clasp hands, embrace them. Even a few satellite acquaintances, like the dentist from Santarém who held Dora's hand when he told her what Luiza had said about the Romans and how she kissed Evie on the forehead before she went in the water. This is what they'll be leaving behind when they move to Canada.

The truth is, Dora knows that Luiza would never have wanted to be buried here at Campinas Cemetery; she said it was a hate-filled place, marked by suffering.

'Well, it is a graveyard,' Dora had said, barely suppressing the vague, ironic smile that she knew incited Luiza's accusations of condescension.

'No, not just illness and death. Murder—' Then, once again, Luiza told the story of Colonel Asa Thompson Oliver as though she alone had safeguarded it these hundred years: how his wife died after the journey over from America, his two daughters soon after from tuberculosis, and then Oliver himself, bludgeoned with a shovel by a slave he caught stealing potatoes. In revenge, three Confederados loyal to Thompson lynched the slave and left him hanging from a tree on the property for days. A warning.

'And they're all buried there, in that horrible place where you make us take flowers. Except the slave, I'm sure.'

'A place can't be everything it ever was forever and ever,' Dora argued as she always did. 'It's a symbol. It can mean something else to us than it did to them. It's just a place to remind us where we came from.'

'But what if I don't want to remember?'

And yet here in a foot-deep hole, among the graves of the Confederate settlers and their descendants, Dora places a wooden box with some of Luiza's things, some cheap trinkets because her sisters should be given the better things: a pair of broken earrings, some photos. The snapshots of Luiza are all small, blurry: as a girl, next to Mother's birdcages, awkward in a white sunbonnet. Luiza hanging upside down by her knees from a swing in their old backyard on Colonial Drive. As an infant, pliant and pale and alien. (Dora had been happiest then, when Luiza nursed all day, it seemed, sending currents of heat through Dora's breasts.) On her sixteenth birthday, her nose buried in the journal written by her grandmother, frowning even though Dora warned her the crease between her eyes would become permanent, like her own. Now they begin to sing. Dora forgot she had asked for some hymns, knowing they'll be mostly Baptist, but she also requested one from her Catholic school days. She told the minister it was Luiza's favourite, though really it's hers.

Star of the sea, pray for the wanderer. Pray for me. As Dora had tried to snap the photo—'Look up, darling, look up!'—Luiza asked, unsmiling, 'What do you think it does to a person, to be owned by someone?' 'I'm sure I couldn't presume to know. Look up, my love. You're so much prettier when you smile!' 'Then what does it do to the person who owns them?' 'Oh, do stop scowling!' Oh, gentle chaste and spotless maid. Virgin most pure, star of the sea. Pray for the mourner, pray for me. Dora has to wrench her gaze away, count the trees, read the tombstones—anything to keep from crying. Luiza would be so angry, her things mixed in among the bodies of soldiers; even the inscriptions on their tombstones are martial and defiant: Soldier rest! Thy warfare over. Once a rebel, twice a rebel and forever a rebel! Died in perfect peace.

How had Luiza become so distant from her? While the girl forgave Hugo everything.

The maids had taken over Luiza's care when she was still so young. Dearest links are rent in twain. But in heaven, no throb of pain. It occurs to her now that Luiza grew up alongside her, maybe in spite of her. Meet me there. They fed and washed her and read to her, but Dora still lifted her sleeping from her cot and brought her into bed with her at night. All those times Hugo was away; Dora hated being alone, though she'd always taken pains to hide it. Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? If her daughter were still here, she would be almost the same age as Dora was then. Luiza would have begun to understand. Are you washed in the blood of the lamb? Understand how hard it was to be so young and alone, with a husband you sometimes couldn't recognize. Maybe. If she were still here. Pray for the children, pray for me. An awful sound rises over the hymns, hoarse and deep, like wailing. Her throat strains, her chest vibrates. Why? she wonders. Why does her body ache? Because the sound is coming from her.

Afterwards, there is no reception. Everything was planned so quickly, she tells their friends, and the house is still half packed from the last time they were about to move. But soon, she promises, soon there will be a party.

'We'll do something to kick off Carnival, like we always do, and then a proper goodbye party at the Copacabana too!'

She tries to sound gay, then blushes—false cheer and talk of parties at a funeral. Surely it's improper. She promises to let them know. They kiss her cheeks and clutch her hands, these friends she's known most of her life. Of course, they say. Tchau, tchauzinho.

In the car, on the way home, Hugo is mostly silent, the skin over his knuckles tight and translucent against the black leather of the steering wheel. She tries to say something, ask what the matter is, but nothing comes. Ridiculous question. Finally, Hugo says, 'We'll have our own ceremony.'

When they arrive home, the house is empty. She had allowed the maids to go home to their families for the night. Now she wishes they were here to make Evie change her clothes, which were dirty before they even left the house earlier that morning. Dora had literally trembled with rage when she found her playing out in the garden in her best dress before they were meant to leave. She led Evie to her bedroom, her hand a talon fixed on the child's shoulder, and commanded, absurdly: 'You stay in there and think about how you want to treat your things!'

She then went to the bar in the dining room, made herself a Scotch and soda, and drank it down in two swallows. She went back to Evie's room a few minutes later. Her youngest child was red-faced, splotchy about the neck (that tender ginger complexion), and bleary-eyed, but already recovered and undressing an old china doll.

'Come here,' she said, and when Evie came Dora kneeled before her and clutched her waist. She let Evie play with her hair for several seconds before standing and straightening both their dresses. 'You have to change your dress.'

'I like this dress.'

'Fine. Rinse your hem in the sink.' Better wet than dirty. Better weak than cruel. Dora was becoming the kind of mother who lets her children go to funerals in dirty clothes.

When Magda comes to her now to say that Evie won't eat her bologna sandwich, Dora sighs and again looks around, waiting uselessly for the maids to appear. And Evie used to be the easiest of the girls, the dreamy and docile one. The Nice One.

'Just take her outside and help your father,' Dora says, suddenly desperate to lie down.


  • "This debut infuses the fierce familial love with the bitter ache of dreams lost and secrets kept. Faber's swirling, dreamlike prose paints a wildly beautiful Brazil. Readers will lose themselves in this delicately wrought, heartbreaking tale."—Publishers Weekly
  • "At once, an intimate family portrait, a mystery, a romance, and a stylistic tour de force. Think Alice Munro's The Lives of Girls and Women, Virginia Woolf's The Waves, Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family and Jodorowsky's The Dance of Reality in a gloriously refreshing mash-up."—Johanna Skibsrud, Giller Prize winning author of The Sentimentalists
  • "At first blush a deft, kaleidoscopic chronicle of a family's grief after the disappearance of a 20-year-old daughter off the shores of Rio de Janeiro, ALL IS BEAUTY NOW is an unflinching look at the pervasive effect of secreted mental illness. Like the brilliant swirl of Carnival, the Maurer family's story possesses multiple layers of both splendor and affliction. I lost myself in its white sands, birds of paradise, and madness."
    Anne Korkeakivi, author of Shining Sea
  • "Notable for its lovely prose and melancholy empathy....All Is Beauty Now [is] a finely observed consideration of how mental illness impacts an entire family."—Kirkus

On Sale
Aug 8, 2017
Page Count
352 pages

Sarah Faber

About the Author

Sarah Faber received an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Concordia University. Her writing has appeared in Matrix and Brick. Originally from Toronto, Sarah now lives in Cape Breton with her husband and their children. All is Beauty Now is her first novel.

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