Wikipedia's entry defining the "unreliable narrator" states, in part:
"...(A)n unreliable narrator...is a literary device in which the credibility of the narrator is seriously compromised. This unreliability can be due to psychological instability, a powerful bias, a lack of knowledge, or even a deliberate attempt to deceive the reader or audience. Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators, but third-person narrators can also be unreliable...(T)he story itself may have a frame in which the narrator appears as a character, with clues to his unreliability. A more common, and dramatic, use of the device delays the revelation until near the story's end. This twist ending forces the reader to reconsider their point of view and experience of the story. In many cases the narrator's unreliability is never fully revealed but only hinted at, leaving the reader to wonder how much the narrator should be trusted and how the story should be interpreted."
Eleanor Rushing is a fine example of such a narrator - if "fine" is the right adjective to apply here. One really can't call her a liar, because she certainly believes everything she's telling you is utterly true, even if she's the only one who remembers it that way. While it is fact that she was orphaned in a tragic accident at the age of ten and stopped speaking for the next four years, nearly everything else since is open to question.
This is an odd novel, and while it did pull me in and hold my interest, I'm not sure I can say I liked it. Eleanor is a fascinating, and frustrating, character. A brief word with a local minister at a City Council meeting has her convinced that he has immediately fallen in love with her, and she begins creating various situations to bring them together; the operative word to describe her activities is "stalking." She won't take "no" for an answer if it contradicts her view of things - although her view of things is usually, to put it charitably, quite delusional.
The story is set in New Orleans, and has a taste of that Southern-gothic flavor, mixing sad situations with elements of screwball comedy. Eccentric, unstable, wealthy belles are somewhat of a staple of the genre, and I think Eleanor fits into that niche. While there are clues throughout the book that things aren't really the way Eleanor describes them, the truth is saved till nearly the end of the story - and while that truth may evoke some sympathy for Eleanor, I really didn't find her a sympathetic character. She has no real self-awareness, nor any desire to gain it, which is one of the reasons I found her frustrating; I like to see some growth in the protagonist, and Eleanor just doesn't seem interested in that. Then again, you can't help anyone who doesn't want to be helped, let along those who can't admit there's a problem in the first place.
However, while Eleanor can be aggravating, she is compelling and rarely dull, and I suspect I won't forget her quickly. Author Patty Friedmann picked up her story again in 2007 in A Little Bit Ruined, but I'm not sure I'm up for spending more time with her. But considering that I bought Eleanor Rushing back in 2001 and took almost seven years to read it, maybe in another seven years I'll be ready.