Scribner, 2002 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book
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Reviewed by David Pitt
hen this novel arrived, I put aside everything else I was reading and hurried through
- at least I tried to. Problem is, Collins doesn't write the kind of novels you hurry through. He forces you to pace yourself, to drink in the narrative, to soak up the characters, to let their words sing in your mind. His last novel, the Booker-nominated
The Keepers of Truth
, was so good I read it again, almost immediately after finishing it the first time, and no doubt I'll soon be cracking open this new one again, too.
hat's it about? Well, that's a little complicated. It opens with Frank Cassidy, currently employed in a burger joint in New Jersey, reading a newspaper article about the recent death of his uncle Ward, the man who raised Frank since he was five years old, when his mom and dad died in a house fire. Frank picks up his family - wife, Honey, and two kids, Robert Lee and Ernie - and heads off to Michigan, to pay his respects and see if he can't mend fences with some estranged relatives.
long the way we discover that Frank is a very troubled fellow: he once spent some time in a mental institution (the novel's set in the late 1970s, before we got all politically correct and changed the way we said nearly everything), and most of the people in Cooper, Michigan, would be just as happy if he stayed very far away. There's also the deep rift between him and his brother, Norman, who really doesn't like him very much, and a long-buried secret that may hold the key to a burning mystery: was Frank's father's death, lo those many years ago, really an accident?
h, and let's not forget the other mystery: who killed Ward Cassidy? Was it the man who's currently lying in a hospital in a coma, after having tried to kill himself in police custody? Or was it someone else, someone who may not be the fine, upstanding citizen he seems to be?
here's a lot going on in
, and the great thing about it is: it doesn't go anywhere near where you're expecting it to go. You think it's this road-trip novel about a troubled man and his troubled family (the teenaged boy, Robert Lee, is especially a handful), then it sort of mutates into a small-town melodrama, with secrets and lies and tragedies, then - just when you think you've got the hang of it - it shifts again, transforms into a hard-edged murder mystery that piles on the surprises until you're gasping for breath.
ven now that I've told you all this, there's still so much more I've left unsaid. So much of the novel is nuance, subtle shading of meaning, little glances at things that are buried far beneath the surface. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of something, some deeply-buried thing that lunges briefly to the surface before withdrawing again into the gloom, and you think: hey. Did I really see that? Collins gets you off-kilter, and keeps you off-kilter, until the very end. An amazing novel.
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