Spanning almost 40 years, Green’s debut novel is a self-assured chronicle of an American family.
In 1959, 12-year-old Andrew Mason should be worrying about football teams and doing his homework. Instead, he’s concerned about his father Erroll’s alcoholism, which becomes undeniable when Erroll causes a scene at the extended Mason family Thanksgiving celebration. Despite repeated apologies and vows to improve, Erroll’s ways never change, and the lingering effects of his addiction haunt his family even after his death. Though both Andrew and his older brother, Skipper, live outwardly successful adult lives, they each struggle with personal problems stemming from their dysfunctional childhood. Andrew finds it impossible to communicate with his wife, Vonie, especially about whether to begin a family, while Skipper’s picture-perfect marriage is a sham; underneath, Skipper is terrified that he is gay. And, though they’d deny it, both brothers share their father’s unhealthy dependence on alcohol. Ultimately, the key to the Mason brothers’ redemption lies in whether they can accept their father’s failings, acknowledge their own mistakes, and trust the strength and love of their remaining family. Green’s prose is fluid and self-assured, making for evocative passages as the narrative moves from character to character. “Andrew picked at a blister on the palm of his hand and tuned out the overlong Prayer,” while his mother, Ruth, planned for the future: “Be prepared….Compose a resume and keep it safely hidden. Commandments that ought to be written in stone for the wife of an alcoholic.” This skillful prose contributes to the nuanced depictions of the main characters, particularly Andrew. Though his inner rage and self-doubt make him at times inaccessible, readers won’t forget that his damage has a deep, painful cause. There are small issues with pacing throughout, as some key moments of character development are glossed over, and a few characters deserve richer exploration as well, particularly Ruth, who unflinchingly takes responsibility for her family’s survival when she realizes her husband is unfit for the job. Nevertheless, this exploration of family wounds is deftly crafted.
A polished, penetrating story of redemption in the face of addiction.