It’s probably the most inappropriate time of year possible to read a novel set in the middle of a heat wave in the steamy midwest, but right before Christmas was when I happened to discover this one.
It starts with a marriage unraveling: Don, a realtor, and his wife Claire, a one-time novelist and now stay-at-home mom, are having problems, emotional, and, as it turns out, financial. Both wander off and start acting out in uncharacteristic ways, mostly at night, with semi-strangers. This being a small town (Grinnell, Iowa), they know the back stories of these strangers. And, also because this is a small town, the people they become involved with are also involved with each other.
But there’s more going on here than bored partners considering infidelity in the heartland. There’s a retired professor with dementia who’s supposed to have written a brilliant novel, and his wife has called their son home to clean out his study and try to find it. There’s an octogenarian who’s ready to die, but has some very specific ideas about where, when, and how. There’s a young woman so undone by the death of her lover that she wants to die too, in hopes of meeting her again. There’s plenty in the way of dark themes, but there’s a lot of humor as well. Here, a young actor attempts to work his magic on a woman he’s just met in a bar:
He leans in, and Jesus Christ, he thinks, I’d like to f^(# her too. The truth is, he knows, this is when he feels most alive: when a woman is about to fall for him. He looks at ABC, a deep kind of gaze he’s mastered in the past year. He thinks it says this: I want to make you happy.
“Are you gonna puke?” ABC asks. “You look like you’re gonna puke. Let’s get some air.”
Yes, the human foibles are on full display here. And there’s even a gun in Act I that goes off in Act III. The combination kept me up till 3:00 on New Years Eve to find out how it would resolve.
author photo: Grinnell College