Ifkovic (Make Believe, 2012, etc.), author of a mystery series about Edna Ferber, turns his eye toward Emily Dickinson and a professor obsessed with her in this convoluted mystery-cum-drama about a family’s inevitable dissolution.
After getting lost in a snowstorm, Fordham professor Bartholomew Judd finds himself driving down an isolated Connecticut road, inexplicably drawn to an ancient-looking clapboard house. Soon enough, he packs up the Manhattan apartment where he and his wife, Rebecca, live and transplants them to the history-soaked saltbox on Tommy’s Path. Rebecca, who gives up a beloved teaching job for this leap of faith, initially supports the change; she stifles her misgivings with a wildflower garden and huckleberry tarts. Ifkovic gradually reveals why: Rebecca is hoping new scenery will snap Bart out of a slump that has lingered since his graduate school days, though it has sharpened since a tragic incident 15 years ago involving their elder son, Jack. But as bad omens materialize, it becomes clear that Tommy’s Path isn’t the refuge it seemed. A professional nemesis of Bart’s charges back into their lives, and creepy neighbors (who may or may not be apparitions) breed conflict and transfix both Bart and Rebecca. The anxiety sends Bart into a tailspin: Thinking he’s stumbled onto a treasure trove of Emily Dickinson–related materials, he turns hermetic, suspicious. He obsesses over gathering evidence for the scholarly tome he finally feels ready to write. But the house, with its hidden passages and harbingers of death, transforms into a foreboding backdrop. Interesting details of Emily Dickinson’s life and work—and Ifkovic’s obvious knowledge of both—make this a fascinating read for any admirer of her poetry, although the storyline involving the Judd family tragedy and its final unraveling is less compelling. Once readers learn what Jack did, the hubbub seems overdramatized, spun into something unrealistic. As for the story’s spookier elements, Ifkovic leaves too many threads hanging.
The literary thrust plays to Ifkovic’s strengths, but he leaves other central aspects underdeveloped and unresolved.