Risk-taking fiction from Kelly (The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, 2013, etc.), this time featuring a canine narrator, an apparition, and a whole mess of trouble between fathers and sons.
Whatever resemblance the wry musings of Ned may bear to the inner life of an actual Shih Tzu, he serves Kelly brilliantly as an outside observer suddenly thrown into the dysfunctional interactions of the Monahan family when prodigal son Spark steals him from the back seat of a Mercedes to bring home to Maine as a peace offering to his own son, Hally, whom he hasn’t seen in four years. Spark does not, to put it mildly, get along with his father, Pastor Ragnar, leader of a sect Ned describes as “occupying the murky middle ground somewhere between Jonestown and the La Leche League.” Kelly’s trademark dark wit is in evidence throughout, as Ned’s scornful running commentary on the foibles of other dog breeds provides some light notes in the increasingly sad drama that plays out after 12-year-old Hally sees the Virgin Mary standing on a cliff near their island home. This vision is a red flag to Spark; Hally’s mother, Flory, it gradually emerges, heard voices and imagined things as a result of the mental illness that descended after Hally was born. The last thing Spark wants is for his son to be used as a marketing tool by manipulative, self-serving Pastor Ragnar. But having left infant Hally with his family in the aftermath of Flory’s death, Spark is not in a position to do much but watch with dismay as Pastor Ragnar’s publicitymongering attracts hordes of invasive gawkers who further unsettle Hally’s already fragile emotional state—as well as a murderous stalker whose menacing actions drive the plot toward a dramatic climax. Plenty of damage is done, but Kelly allows her vulnerable, fallible characters to grope toward better understandings of themselves and each other, with Ned acting as their engaging and affectionate chronicler.
More terrific work from a writer who gets better with each book.