Abu-Jaber (Origin, 2007, etc.) uses a plot staple of standard-issue domestic melodrama—a family dealing with a runaway daughter—to develop a meticulous, deeply moving portrayal of imperfect human beings struggling to do right.
Miami, churning with money, steamy energy and clashing cultures shortly before the recent real-estate crash, is the evocative setting. Elite pastry chef Avis Muir and her husband Brian, a corporate lawyer for a big developer, remain in crisis five years after their stunningly beautiful daughter Felice ran away. Still in Miami, Felice has met briefly with her mother a handful of times, but neither her father nor older brother Stanley, whom Avis always neglected in her obsession with Felice, has seen her since she was 13. As a hurricane approaches, the characters are buffeted by their own internal storms. Increasingly brittle and withdrawn, Avis finds herself drawn to a mysterious Haitian neighbor with her own terrible family secrets. Passive Brian, overwhelmed with his sense of failure as husband and father, is tempted both to have an affair and to invest in a cockamamie real estate deal. Stanley, always underrated by his parents, is now the charismatic proprietor of a wildly popular organic market he fears he may lose to encroaching development. About to turn 18, Felice is outgrowing her life as a street kid but believes she must stay away from home to punish herself for past acts. Glorious descriptions, both of nature and Avis’s mouthwatering pastry, offset yet intensify the jagged emotions of the Muirs.
In this provocative exploration of the fault lines of loyalty and guilt, Abu-Jaber’s searing perceptions, particularly about parents and children, more than make up for a less than convincing ending or an occasional lapse into overlabored prose.