From short-story author Packer (Mendocino, 1994), a reflective and probing first novel about a young woman reassessing her life after her fiancé is crippled.
Twenty-three-year-old Carrie is already quietly bored with Mike when he dives off the pier at Clausen’s Reservoir and breaks his neck. Suddenly there are others to contend with—her mother (her father vanished when Carrie was three), her best friend Jamie, Mike’s parents, even Mike’s best friend Rooster. Everyone thinks they know exactly who Carrie is and what she will do. Already, her future was no longer cast in a perfectly comfortable mold, and she’s panicked now as the accident threatens to set it in stone. After going through the motions for a few weeks, refusing to make emotional contact with anyone even as she dutifully visits Mike in the hospital, Carrie jumps into her car and heads to New York City. There, she moves in with a gay friend from high school and quickly embarks on a love affair with Kilroy, an older man who’s everything Mike is not: moody, secretive, distrustful of easy emotions. Carrie sets out to make a new identity for herself: she takes classes in clothing design, befriends a lesbian poet, slowly learns more about Kilroy’s conflicted past. Meanwhile, phone calls home don’t convince anyone she’s coming back: Mike is resigned, Jamie bitterly angry. Few readers, either, will expect her to return again, since Packer has painted such a compelling portrait of her alienation at home and of New York’s liberating pleasures as the city where people reinvent themselves. But this turns out to be a deeper novel than that, as Packer sends Carrie home to make her peace with Mike and Jamie. And there’s not a false note in the story’s tentative resolution, which thwarts our initial expectations in order to satisfy more complex demands.
Lucid prose limns complicated people whose dilemmas illuminate crucial moral choices, large and small. Very fine fiction indeed.