In this debut novel, a troubled woman of 58 battles her many demons by seeking answers to her family’s disintegration and by learning to enjoy the natural world.
As Nia Meyer begins her story, she is fishing alone on the Salt River along Florida’s Gulf Coast. She details the process with an evident understanding of the natural world acquired through her late mother’s Native American heritage and her long absent father’s knowledge of the region and myriad skills. Nia’s boat becomes stuck in mud overnight as a storm rages. She withstands the ordeal, but her fear and isolation prompt long reveries, which are braided through her current situation and explain her unhappiness: “It was a long time ago, when my heart was so broken I could not breathe.” The sudden loss of her husband, a 40-year-old oncologist, sent her reluctantly into therapy decades ago with psychologist Paul Horton. He attempts to relieve her of the burden of her “memory stones”: all of her recollections, painful as well as happy. She stingily offers him small pebbles from her past. She grew up in Florida. When her mother died after becoming involved in a cultish church, their father abandoned Nia and her siblings. The four children were “adopted” by the church’s sinister leaders and unspecified abuse ensued. Nia escaped, met the successful but problematic Joel Meyer, and moved with him to Virginia, where they eventually married. Her psychotherapy enabled her to return to Florida, reconnect with family members and memories, and begin a new social life. The meandering plot touches on Nia’s childhood, her current life, her therapist’s family issues, Native American beliefs, along with much fishing lore, but most issues warrant additional coverage. The language and actions of doctors are depicted unrealistically: Horton describes Meyer’s death to his therapist: “ ‘Brain aneurysm,’ he replied. ‘It blew with such force it turned his brain into hamburger. At least, that’s what the surgeon told my patient.’ ” He later violates ethical strictures by contacting Nia’s sister on his own. The author does reveal some profound insights about abuse and dysfunction in families and how people heal.
A cleareyed look at overcoming family trauma, but several subplots beg further exploration.