A troubled family remakes itself in this moving third novel by Biewald (Bread and Salt, 2005, and Roses Take Practice, 2006).
Angry young pool player Ivy MacKenzie runs away from her Rivertown, Conn., home at the age of 17, leaving behind her sensitive, gawky younger brother, Bryan, and her beautiful mother, Carol. All three are haunted by the death of Johnny MacKenzie, husband, father and Vietnam veteran, who died in an accident years before. The depth of each character’s grief could be explored more intimately, but each presents a compelling portrait of loss: Carol laments the fact that death has made Johnny into a saint, while she has to do the daily tasks of parenting alone; Ivy feels she lost the parent who loved her best; Bryan wonders why his claim to his father comes last. Into the void left by runaway Ivy comes lonely shop teacher Neal, who wants to fix everything. As Ivy travels a bumpy road to Florida with her new boyfriend, Gil, her mother finds love with the teacher, and Bryan grows up and out of Ivy’s shadow. Soon, though, Ivy is abused by her boyfriend, and finds herself pregnant to boot. She finally bolts from the apartment she shares with Gil to work as a waitress in a diner–a situation that leads her into several dark places. When her only friend leaves, she slowly turns to home, but she finds it drastically changed, with Neal installed as stepfather and a family relieved–but angry–to see her again. As the family learns of both Carol’s and Ivy’s pregnancies, the girls’ paths take very different turns. Finally, Gil returns after the birth of his son, Mac. Can Ivy leave him yet again?
Biewald offers smooth, accomplished prose, punctuated by emotionally realistic interactions.