Acewal’s ambitious debut portrays an extremely dysfunctional family trying to come to terms with a tragic, pointless death.
After moving from Louisville to New York City, Sabrina Walker thinks she has escaped her disastrous family. She’s now publishing her first book and engaged to a musician, but she’s terrified that her fiance, Jake, will abandon her when he sees where she came from. A late-night phone call brings all her buried issues to the surface and calls her home. Her beloved cousin Danny has been shot and killed under mysterious circumstances, leaving the rest of the family in shock. Abandoning her book publicity duties, Sabrina takes a nightmarishly funny ride home—“this flight makes me feel sane.” She reunites with her mother—“Woman,” as Sabrina calls her—and an assortment of other family members, so many that it’s at first challenging to keep them straight. Structured as a spiral zeroing in on the night of Danny’s death, the story recounts events before and after the killing from the points of view of different family members. This technique sustains the mystery of how Danny died until the end, while gradually increasing sympathy for a group of people who make terrible, sometimes unbelievable choices. The font and typeface changes when switching points of view are unnecessary and disruptive, however, as are the occasional wrong word choices (“sites” instead of “sights,” for instance) and missing commas that can alter the meaning of sentences (“He’s missing Bree”). Wordy prose and repetitious scene setting could use some editing, too. However, the characters’ distinct voices bring them to life, especially Sabrina: “I feel Scattered inside. It’s not a new feeling. No, rather a familiar one. It is the feeling that alternates with Broken.” The result is unexpected empathy for a damaged collection of people. Sabrina pulled off a narrow escape by getting out, yet in the end, her affection for her troubled family shines through.
Rough and gritty with a sweet side, this is a convincing portrayal of a love-hate relationship with family.