An exploration of Tolstoy’s dictum about unhappy families.
Richard Shapiro, his wife Louise and daughter Molly are living the good life in California when tragedy hits. Richard, a therapist, has a patient who unexpectedly takes her life, and a short while later Richard, still stunned by the suicide, accidentally sets a forest afire on a camping trip to Colorado. In response to these woes, the Shapiros decide to uproot themselves and begin a new life in southwest Michigan. Richard takes a job as a Director of Psychological Services at a local prison, but Louise, a social worker, has trouble finding appropriate work in Stickney Springs. Although she eventually gets a part-time position as a counselor at the local high school, she’s put off by the politics (right-wing) of the locals, by their denial of evolution and by their sympathy for militias and conspiracy theories. Pollack sets her novel around the time of Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and some of the locals were known to have consorted with McVeigh—and they even show some sympathy and support for him. While Richard’s status as a Jew makes him a curiosity in this largely evangelical community, he finds himself unaccountably drawn toward survivalist acquaintances. Louise begins to grow apart from Richard, still haunted by his failure as a therapist. As their emotional distance increases, Louise begins a torrid affair and discovers that passion is a stern master—while it makes her feel most alive, at the same time it tears her apart.
A rich and satisfying novel that explores in a significant way contemporary issues of family, religion and politics.