Two couples—one united, one long separated—face significant buckling and settling of their emotions when two earthquakes strike San Francisco within an hour.
Even if many stories aren’t actually love stories, this second novel from poet Percer (An Uncommon Education, 2012) undoubtedly is. Partly the tale of long-ago lovers Max and Vashti, partly that of married couple Eugene and Franklin, it’s also a love letter to San Francisco—"the best city America ever had the accidental luck to create"—where the action takes place on, yes, Valentine’s Day. Percer connects these and other tales of the heart to a massive seismic event, announced in the novel’s opening sentence and then held tantalizingly back while acres of back story are traversed. Will Vashti have the courage to meet up with Max after their bad breakup 14 years earlier? Will Eugene get home in time to celebrate news of a possible promotion with his husband, Franklin, who has multiple sclerosis? Delayed gratification, it turns out, is an abiding element of Percer's storytelling. Not only are the lovescapes of these characters anatomized, but their early family relationships are too, with Percer creating matched triads of parents/work/partner for all. Then, a third of the way in, the tectonic plates finally displace, mayhem ensues, and the characters all find themselves in differently dire circumstances. Percer, however, remains more interested in rehashing the past than moving forward in the present, so while her chapters may switch suspensefully between immediate physical dangers, the focus remains on character, in particular reassessment, repentance, forgiveness, and realignment.
This intelligently written tale falls between genres, neither heart-racing disaster drama nor wrenching emotional excavation.