Davies (The Frog King, 2002) moves out of the city for his second novel, which deals with a son returning to his estranged family and the secrets they’ve all left behind.
Jack Tennant, a jaded former musician and recovering alcoholic with a low-paying adjunct professorship at an underwhelming university, is summoned home to Maryland for the first time in more than 15 years to visit his stroke-ridden father. He brings along with him his serious girlfriend, Hahva, who has never met his family and knows little about Jack’s past. As it turns out, there is much to know. When Jack, the youngest of three, was a child, his older brother Dexter drowned on a family trip to Lake George. His family never spoke about it, and so neither did Jack, who was too young to remember. When Jack and Hahva arrive at the family home, they find that little has changed. His oldest brother, Pressman, is an alcoholic wallowing away in small-town life. His father’s nurse claims that he has “locked-in” syndrome, a rare condition wherein his brain functions but he is unable to speak or move. And his mother seems to be in denial about everything. Just as Jack feared, the visit home gives Hahva more information than he would have liked. But just as he is ready to give up on his family, he, too, uncovers family secrets that change his outlook and give him hope for his future with both them and Hahva. Some of the prose is well crafted, though it saunters too frequently into the pretentious and overblown (the author ends chapters with a scoreboard racking up “points” per character). But more importantly, the characters are very difficult to like—especially Jack, whose inertia in the face of trying circumstances is irritating.
A dour and mediocre family drama, despite Davies’s creative ministrations.