Grief and loss haunt a laborer from a small town in Maine in Rau’s well-written debut.
Barry Cook lives a lonely life. He’s mostly friendless except for his stalwart older brother, Ray, and ekes out a hand-to-mouth existence as a day laborer, marinating in sadness, dread, and the occasional fit of rage. Twenty-five years earlier he was instrumental in finding and saving two tourists in a turn of events most consider supernatural, and Barry has been running from that perception ever since. However, a rich man with nothing in his life but time and money comes to town with a proposition for Barry: help him find and exorcise the ghost of his long-missing daughter. With mounting bills, no heat or power in his house, and a lifetime of bad behavior behind him, the loner doesn’t see any other option but to do what the man asks. But Barry has his own ghosts to deal with. Rau writes with a flair for detail, nailing physical settings and character traits efficiently (“My feet feel like blocks of wood, only vaguely in league with my legs as I hurry to the bathroom; the waning day like a battery burning down”). Surrounded by the wreckage of his inability to handle the events of a quarter-century ago, Barry is a man wracked by rage and sorrow, possessing a complex inner life but failing to communicate what’s in his heart, and Rau perfectly captures his contradictions and complexities. There’s little sunshine in Barry’s world, and Rau doesn’t cheat readers by manufacturing an upbeat finale. The conclusion to Barry’s story leaves room for optimism, but it doesn’t stint on portraying darkness or making characters reap the consequences of their actions.
Tightly paced, controlled, and written with a sure grasp of character and voice, Rau’s novel is a formidable debut.