A debut drama revolves around a theme of domestic abuse and the resolution of age-old grudges.
When readers first meet the Coxes, they are preparing for a homecoming of sorts. It seems like a happy occasion, and it is, for some. A son, Bradley, is returning home after eight years in prison for killing his father. Leah, Bradley’s mother, and Thelma, his aunt, are in the kitchen making food while his sisters, Vanessa and Mary Kay, are hanging a banner. The point of view switches between characters to set up the story. Vanessa remembers visiting Bradley, her best friend, in prison. Mary Kay wonders whether anyone thinks about their father, Brad Sr., and how he doted on her. Leah remembers the hell of the trial and the therapy that didn’t help. Bradley is about to be a free man for the first time in his adult life, and his homecoming means family members will have to deal with the feelings they have swallowed for eight years. Uncle Joey puts Bradley to work in construction. Vanessa and Bradley try to make up for lost time as siblings. Things are fragile but stable at first. Then Bradley starts drinking, which strains his relationship with his mother, especially because he’s living with her. He makes a bad decision that alienates Vanessa. Everyone remembers years of Brad Sr. physically and mentally abusing Leah and the kids while no one, not even Joey and Thelma, did anything about it. May’s characters and their relationships are well-drawn; this is a lucid tale dealing with serious issues that is worth reading. But it has some pervasive structural problems. Because everyone is living in the past, the novel feels like a long compilation of flashbacks. Characters are stranded in the present while the narrative looks back (“After Vanessa left, Bradley carried their empty coffee cups over and set them in the sink. Memories flooded him. Kitchen memories. His father coming home from work in one of his moods, throwing food, breaking dishes”). And there are no chapters, though the volume is split into four parts with an occasional line break. That doesn’t ruin the book, but it does dull the impact of an otherwise compelling story.
A tense and absorbing family tale.