Maksik firmly creates the “place” as the Pacific Northwest, though his characters have a difficult time finding any kind of “shelter”—from place or from each other.
After graduating from an undemanding college, Joe March finds himself a bit lost. He works part time as a bartender and meets Tess Wolff, a free-spirited young woman with something of a wild streak. Besides developing a relationship with Tess, two things haunt Joe’s life. First, he starts to feel the beginnings of bipolar disorder, a disease he characterizes with the metaphors of “tar” and “a bird” whose talons grip him fiercely. Second, Joe’s mother, Anne-Marie, witnesses an act of bullying in a grocery store parking lot, and she takes action by seizing a framing hammer and killing the perpetrator of the violence. (Her defense is weakened by the fact that she delivers seven blows with the hammer, which suggests the level of her rage.) She’s tried, found guilty, and given five-to-25 years. Maksik offers up all of this plot in a chronologically convoluted narrative, moving back and forth to various fragments of his characters’ complicated histories. This strategy serves the narrative well, for it emphasizes the recurring significance of family ties and obligations. After an initial separation, Tess eventually finds Joe and visits Anne-Marie in prison. Along with a number of other women, Tess finds herself admiring Anne-Marie for taking a definitive stand against domestic violence, and she persuades Joe and Seymour, a bouncer at a local bar as well as a prison guard, to get involved in a wacko plot to take revenge on a local college professor who’s physically abusing his wife.
On every page we’re reminded of the paradox of how mysterious, thorny, and delicate family relationships can be.