A homeless man comes tantalizingly close to his old life and happiness only to question that joy.
In this novel, Wright (The Sky Is Far Away, 2018, etc.) gives readers a homeless, nameless man trying to survive after the mother of all housing bubbles has burst. He is somewhere in Florida, breaking into foreclosed houses in search of food. He has bottomed out: He’s lost his job and his family and even spent a year in prison. He has also lost all hope and wants only to be left alone. Then he comes upon a little girl—as hungry and thirsty as he is—in an abandoned house. Try as he might, he cannot bring himself to desert her. He finds an abandoned cabin and a job with a guy who is scrapping a nearby defunct amusement park, Fun-O-Rama (a wonderful metaphor). The girl, whose name readers finally learn is Jessie, is severely traumatized and mute. Ever so slowly, she begins to trust the man (her first words to him: “Are you Jesus?”). When she falls sick, he gets her to a hospital. She recovers, but now the police are very interested in his relationship with this kid and in his past. Many more things happen, but it is his need for Jessie that drives it all. The ending is artistically risky but truer than the conclusion readers will probably crave. Wright is a flat-out wonderful writer. The prose is crisp (“Unhappy should be a weather forecast like rain or snow”), the details spot-on, and the slow development meticulous. The nameless man—the first-person narrator—is an unforgettable character, always talking about the stories in life, like the “I Work Out and Exercise” and “Never Feed a Stray Animal” tales. He is in love with his bitterness but, try as he might, can’t excise his basic decency. This painful novel delivers heartbreak—but no sentimentality—and consummate thaumaturgy or, in the narrator’s words, “I’m both the magician and the trick.”
This tale of two survivors should move you, cajole you, upset you, and seduce you.