After two novels (The Communist's Daughter, 2007, etc.) prominently featuring politics and war, Bock offers a deceptively modest domestic drama about a man returning to Toronto from Italy after the breakup of his marriage.
After his Italian wife, Isabel, leaves him and takes up with another man, expat Canadian Charlie decides to escape his emotional pain by returning to Toronto to open a new branch of the language school chain he owns. He plans to be gone for one year and to stay in constant touch with his 12-year-old daughter, Ava. In Canada, Charlie reconnects with his older brother, Nate, from whom he’s been estranged since chauvinist swine Nate behaved particularly boorishly to Isabel years before. Now going through his own ugly divorce and desperate to maintain his relationship with his two sons, Nate at first seems chastened. But Charlie gradually realizes that Nate has not changed as much as he’d like to pretend and is rabidly bitter that the boys prefer staying with his ex-wife and her easygoing boyfriend. Charlie, who desperately misses Ava and questions why he decided to take himself out of her life, becomes increasingly protective of Nate’s boys. He is still pining for Isabel as well as Ava when he runs into his long-lost first love, Holly; he was running away from their troubled relationship when he first met Isabel. Once Charlie corrects his misreading of past events, he begins to take responsibility for his life. And by the time Nate spirals out of control, Charlie understands how fundamentally different a man is from his brother. The elliptical narrative, which sometimes leaves out connecting details, is more intriguing than confusing as Charlie sorts out the truth. On one level, the novel captures the difficulty men have reading women; on a deeper level, Bock plumbs issues of memory, moral responsibility and what constitutes a man’s real love for a woman.
Finely crafted, disarmingly casual prose that quietly penetrates the reader’s mind and heart.