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Newcomer Mark joins the Masters-of-the-Maudlin Club with this treacly and overwrought indulgence about a physics prof who loses his family. Jackson Tate couldn’t imagine being happier than he is in Wendell, Illinois, with his lovingly renovated old farmhouse, his teaching job, his perfect wife Nancy and two beloved kids—until a drunk driver, one afternoon while Jackson is at home working on the roof, jumps lanes and kills Jackson’s entire family. Plunged into an abyss of despair, grief, and rage, Jackson, not much later, telling no one, hits the road (in a run-down van he calls the Quark) to meander slowly cross country, with the result that readers meet him as he gazes over the sea outside a small Maine town in the spring. And not just Jackson, either, since a cute-meet of cosmic proportion is necessary for the very genesis of Mark’s “from-the-ashes-of-death” get-well-card of a novel. On the beach, Jackson sees Olivia Faraday (“her bronze hair . . . whipped by the wind . . . like petals around her face”) and finds himself “drawn to her, as a child reaches for the first flower he sees as being yellow.” Chance (a broken radiator hose) dictates that Jackson see Olivia again when he checks into the seaside inn she operates by herself apparently. Becoming Olivia’s handyman and, with glacial slowness, her lover, Jackson learns that, just as his own family has been lost, Olivia has also “lost” her husband—yes, to Alzheimer’s. Can happiness be found by Olivia and Jackson? Maybe, but not until after Jackson returns to Illinois to take care of, well, something terrible (Olivia: “She nodded. “Sometimes going back is the only way we can move forward.’ She sighed”). And so, amid sighs, nods, blowing hair, and carefully sprinkled snippets of physics (“It’s a pull between us, like electrons spinning around an atom”), things do, or don’t, work out. Let the people decide. It’s a democracy, isn’t it? (A Book-of-the-Month featured alternate)

Pub Date: April 5th, 1999
ISBN: 0-399-14447-1
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999