A sputtering marriage stalls when a p.r. flack takes a break from the job and kids to fix up the family's vacation home in upstate New York, in this painfully slow successor to Gates's debut, Jernigan (1991), a Pulitzer Prize finalist. No one's happy when Willis decides to go on leave: The Manhattan sports-drink company he works for, his wife Jean, and his two children all suspect he's not coming back as planned after two months. And Willis himself is at a loss when he's finally alone in the house in Preston Falls—and, of course, it didn't help that he was arrested in a nearby park, with Jean and the kids looking on, for abusing a workman, and then was thrown into the county lockup for the weekend. Jean doesn't want to hear from him, and his renovations go awry almost immediately. When he seeks solace in the company of a band run by the fox-faced lawyer who got him out of jail, he finds his fingers itch less to play guitar than his nose does to snort the white powder on offer. The lawyer is also a dealer, and when he turns up the heat on his client to do some dirty work—or be framed for possession—Willis panics and vanishes into the night. Only when he's due back home and at work and doesn't show does anyone suspect that something is truly amiss. Jean, juggling a corporate job and the parenting of kids also traumatized by Willis's absence, copes as best she can, but things get worse when their daughter steals a credit card and runs away to find her daddy herself. Jean brings her home safely, and shortly thereafter the prodigal father himself returns. But his homecoming is awkward and uncertain, and it's not long before the wayward Willis is on the road once more. The tumult of marriage on the rocks rings true, but otherwise there's too much yuppie angst and too little human interest for this to be appealing.
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