In debut novelist Stafford’s searing drama, AA meeting attendees find their lives have strange past and ongoing connections.
Jonathan Vacarie drives his mother, Bea, to the AA meeting being held at the Our Lady of Perpetual Forgiveness church in Tartusville, Connecticut. Jonathan is a recovering alcoholic and thinks that AA could also do his mother some good, but most other attendees, it seems, are truly anonymous. They include Officer Joe Batina, tree worker “King Karl” Warth, newcomer Nellie and businessman Eddie Musso, who’s only there as part of his probation for a DWI. Some have already met; some will soon cross paths; and others will reunite later in surprising, occasionally deadly, ways. The novel sometimes reads like a well-constructed short story collection. For example, a line that Bea yells in the church parking lot is repeated in later chapters, making a couple of small jumps back in time (not to mention shifting perspectives) hardly noticeable. Each character has his or her own back story: Eddie, a family man, can’t stay away from bartender Sandra, who’s not his wife; Karl desperately tries to show his estranged teenaged son, Marcus, that he’s a changed man. The varying perspectives afford multiple views of the cast. In Jonathan’s story, for instance, he exudes sympathy, especially due to his beloved dog, Zella, who’s dying (he believes) from cancer. But in the eyes of other AA attendees, he’s a sad, pitiful figure, often sitting next to his loud, abrasive and generally despised mother. Karl, whose “old mind” harbors very dark thoughts, is attempting to better himself. The novel is not for the faint of heart; things do eventually become grim and violent. The ending, however, which is likewise bleak, will reverberate for days after reading.
A sometimes gloomy experience in the lives of despondent characters but undeniably provocative and all-consuming.