A man contemplates his marriage, family, and life in this contemporary romance with philosophical themes.
Philosophy Ph.D. candidate Brendan Ryan fulfills his dream of a Thoreau-like existence in Maine when he escapes Boston and his unhappy wife for a cabin in Caribou, where he embarks on “his personal search for truth, his search for the meaning of existence.” He plans to spend the summer reading and rekindling a relationship with his son, Corey. The two are having a good time, but a conflict arises when Brendan is reunited with a French-accented beauty, Cosette Fontaine, at the local diner. They met when he passed through Maine while purchasing the cabin. Named after the tragic character in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables as a tribute to her Acadian heritage, the alluring waitress stands out in the small town. Brendan is immediately attracted to her open nature, so unlike his pinched and constantly complaining wife. He and Cosette engage in a light affair in spite of his marriage that quickly accelerates into love. Brendan is soon musing that “maybe my search for truth is over, my dear sweet angel—I may have found it right here with you.” But the unanswered questions involving his wife and marriage and whether he will return to Boston in the fall remain. At its heart, Carroll’s (Slum Fever, 2015, etc.) ambitious novel is more about Acadian history in Maine than a summer romance or philosophical journey. He delivers plenty of rich, vivid period details, including about the Ku Klux Klan’s role in the 1920s (“Prejudice against French-speaking Americans, especially Acadian French-speaking, began when the Klan came in”). But the story is populated by stock characters: the downtrodden husband, the fat harridan of a wife, the enchanting waitress, and the folksy, proverb-spouting handyman. Readers will struggle to identify with serial adulterer Brendan, who recalls his affairs with two sexy undergraduates. And Cosette seems bipolar, one minute playing coy, the next cursing about a rude waitress (“It’s really time for her to fucking croak!”).
An uneven love story with intriguing historical details.