A family man is tested by his father’s death, his wife’s emotional distance and his son’s exasperating behavior—and the crush he’s nursing on his widowed stepmom isn’t helping.
As Miller’s debut novel opens, narrator Logan Pyle is just barely keeping it together as a stay-at-home dad. His 4-year-old son, Owen, has become increasingly closed-off and rude. His lawyer wife, Julie, is little help, working long hours on a case involving ailing miners. And he’s feeling pressured to sell the valuable Montana lakefront land his late father left him. Cue some heavy-handed symbolism (Logan stocking life preservers in a boating shop on the property) and a few scenes driven by Logan’s fuming at helicopter moms and wealthy know-it-all dads, and it’s clear a crisis is coming. Sure enough, he catches Julie flirting heavily with another man, prompting him to take Owen on an impromptu road trip to visit Bennie, the young widow of Logan’s father. The two work through their own history (including a drunken flirtation that went too far) and Logan’s crumbling marriage, speeding up a long-avoided reckoning with the past. Miller is at her best in scenes with Logan and Owen together—dad’s brutal honesty with his son about death in general (and Owen’s near-death experience in particular) exposes the depths of his emotional frustration. The sexual tension between Logan and Bennie is convincing, and the first-person-present narration gives the novel a breezy energy. Even so, stiff moments abound, as when Logan and Owen visit a church and joshingly baptize themselves, and much of the dialogue is earnestly engineered to push the chess pieces into their proper positions. The sense of manipulation increases in the closing pages, which tie the bow in a satisfying but not especially surprising way.
A solid debut, though its redemption arc is predictable comfort food.