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A husband loses his way and tries to find his life’s meaning in the wreckage.

Writing teacher Perry (English/Elon Univ.) makes good on his short stories, which appear in publications like New Stories from the South, with a striking debut novel about a man whose responsibilities haven’t yet overcome his ambitions. The narrative posits itself as being about an everyman hero, Jack Lang, the reluctant owner of a North Carolina mulching business and caring father to his six-year-old autistic son, Hendrick. Except that Jack is far from being every man, as he struggles to take in the bewildering creature his child has become and still believes that the impossible is doable. In fact, Jack’s diversions—buying a second house the family doesn’t need, for example—have driven his wife, Bethany, to move in with his best friend, Terry Canavan. “No good answer, like most other things,” Perry writes. “He goes ahead with projects without planning them all the way through first. It makes her crazy. He knows this, does it anyway. Gets excited.” Out of these tales of ordinary madness, Perry constructs a riveting familial drama. Jack is oddly detached emotionally, failing to strike out at his wife’s infidelity other than making a mean-spirited drive through Terry’s yard, for which he later apologizes. But the troubled trio soon becomes an even more dysfunctional quartet when Terry’s estranged girlfriend Rena moves in with Jack, initiating a bizarrely civil case of partner swapping. “But we at least have to hate each other more if we’re going to keep acting like this,” Beth professes. “We at least have to act like regular lunatics.” The domestic drama is far from the book’s sole attraction, as Perry breathes glorious life into Hen, whose repetitive jabber—mimicking not only TV advertisements but also his parents’ appalling banter—gives the novel a unique rhythm of its own.

A charitable and bleakly funny portrait of the American dream gone off the rails.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-670-02154-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2010