From novelist and short-story writer Nelson (Nothing Right, 2009, etc.), a brief, sorrowfully comic novel about family dysfunction that considers everyone’s contribution—parents, children, spouses, even pets.
Driving alone with her dog, Misty Mueller is in a one-car accident. The dog escapes the overturned car and is adopted by a young woman camping nearby, but Misty, a single mother, dies. When her 15-year-old daughter Cattie gets the news, she runs away from her Vermont prep school. After hiding briefly in Montpelier, she sets off on a cross-country road trip with a troubled but sweet-natured Army deserter and his dogs. In Wichita, Kan., Misty’s childhood friend Catherine has completely lost touch with Misty. In her late 30s now and married to Oliver, a successful, much older entrepreneur with two grown daughters from previous marriages, Catherine is oblivious when Oliver follows the pattern he previously established to exit his first two marriages by beginning an affair with an even younger woman. Without children of her own or a real career, Catherine expends her energy caring for her mother Grace, a former professor who has suffered a stroke. Grace’s mental acuity remains intact despite her inability to speak, and she remains hurtfully critical of her daughter’s passivity and lack of ambition. Then Catherine learns that she has been named Cattie’s guardian and searches her out. Once Catherine finds Cattie, their relationship evolves by sharing memories of Misty. To Cattie, Misty was a tough-minded single mom who provided well for her daughter. Catherine remembers their wild adolescence together: Catherine the rebellious bourgeois, Misty the white-trash girl with no future; while they took risks with drugs and sex, a serial killer remained on the loose nearby. Now, as Catherine eases into the role of her namesake’s guardian, the same killer has resurfaced, and the news surrounding his banal evil creates the backdrop/counterpoint to the characters’ growing understanding of their places in the world.
A small gem—more understated than Nelson’s recent stories, but equally sharp and deeply moving.