A doctor returns to his hometown to confront the violence and trauma of his adolescence.
Nate McHale grew up in a picturesque lake town in the Adirondacks. One weekend in April when Nate is a teen, his family heads out for a picnic, and a drunk driver runs their car off a mountain road into the freezing lake below. Nate is the only survivor, but the incident doesn’t leave him unscathed; instead, it sets him on a dangerous path. Together with a group of friends, Nate acts on his “unquenchable rage” by engaging in escalating acts of vandalism designed to punish anyone in town who has wronged him or his friends. But then one of their gang, a girl with whom Nate has a complicated history, disappears. Fourteen years later, Nate, now a successful surgeon in New York with a wife and daughter, gets a call that the girl’s body has been pulled from the lake, clearly the victim of murder. As Nate returns home and the remaining gang reunites, they realize that someone is committing acts that mirror their youthful transgressions—and that this someone is upping the ante. Duffy (House of Echoes, 2015) alternates between Nate’s return home in the present and his vengeful past. Even readers with a high tolerance for leaps back and forth in time, though, might be stymied by Duffy’s convoluted double narrative. It doesn’t help matters that while Duffy seems to want his book to be a page-turner, he frequently slows the pace with overwriting. But while readers may skim past some sentences, Duffy’s portrait of Nate, especially in his adolescence, feels like a truthful mess of contradictions and complexity—in other words, he feels like a real person grappling with trauma and quotidian confusions all at once.
A muddy thriller with an intriguing protagonist at its core.