Spencer achieves what most debut writers merely attempt: He gives personal experience universal meaning and makes small-town tragedy profound. Sharp insight and sensitive prose distinguish what might have been a familiar tale of a dysfunctional family. The author gives his version additional interest by employing the perspectives of three different people: the jilted boyfriend, the abandoned son, and the girlfriend/mother who can't take it anymore. Each voice is distinct and unique; all three impress and convince. As the novel opens, it has been six months since Ellen ran out on Redmond, leaving her 16-year-old son, Nick, in his care. Gradually, as Redmond and Nick work on their farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, we learn more about the older man's stormy 12-year relationship with Ellen. They met during one of her habitual nights out at the local bar. Attracted to needy, vulnerable women, he wanted more than a one-night stand, despite discovering four-year-old Nick in her trailer-home bathtub. But Redmond often became violent and sometimes disappeared for months at a time, though he always came back. After Ellen herself finally leaves, Nick blames Redmond, and their interactions become increasingly antagonistic: The boy electrocutes Redmond while they're repairing the pasture fence; he retaliates by trapping Nick in the chicken coop. A lot happens as a prelude to the trio's ultimate confrontation. During her bus journey home Ellen realizes she must reclaim her son and confront her lover in order to take back her life (Spencer deserves applause here for capturing women so well). Redmond sorts though memories of childhood abuse and confronts his nemesis when the father he hasn't seen in years comes to town. And Nick survives the pain of loneliness and isolation by emotionally manipulating Redmond, hoping his life will change, and falling in love. Tender, skillful, and true.