In an enthralling tragedy built on a foundation of small misfortunes, Dubus (Bluesman, 1993, etc.) offers in detail the unraveling life of a woman who, in her undoing, brings devastation to the families of those in her path.
It was bad enough when Kathy Lazaro stepped out of the shower one morning to find herself evicted from her house, a small bungalow to be auctioned the very next day in a county tax sale; bad enough that her recovering-addict husband had left her some time before, and that she had no friends at all in California to help her move or put her up. Then she also had to fall for the guy who evicted her, Deputy Les Burdon—married, with two kids. Sympathetic to her plight, Les lines up legal counsel and makes sure she has a place to stay, but his optimism (and the lawyer’s) hits an immovable object in proud ex-Colonel Behrani, formerly of the Iranian Air Force, who fled his homeland with his family when the Shah was deposed and who has struggled secretly in San Francisco for years to maintain appearances until his daughter can make a good marriage. He’s sunken his remaining life savings into buying Kathy’s house, at a tremendous bargain, planning to reinvent himself as a real-estate speculator, and he has no wish to sell it back when informed that the county made a bureaucratic error. Hounded by both Kathy and Les—who has moved out, guiltily, on his family and brought his lover, herself a recovering addict, back to the bar scene—Behrani is increasingly unable to shield his wife and teenaged son from the ugly truth, but he still won’t yield. Then Kathy tries to kill herself, and Les takes the law into his own hands.
No villains here, but only precisely rendered proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.