Vondohlen’s debut novel features Dan, whose thoughtful, solitary ways have created a wedge in his relationships.
Dan is ruminating over the death of his father and the unraveling of his marriage as he makes a trip to Knoxville, Tenn., to hash things out with his brother, Roger. His brother had behaved flippantly at the funeral, and his misbehavior—taking phone calls, drinking in the limo, a shallow eulogy—caused a rift between the brothers. Dan, who has just moved out of his home in Houston and separated from his wife and 3-year-old daughter, enjoys simple pleasures: gardening, brewing his own beer, the soothing sounds of the soda plant where he works as an accountant, and whiskey—a hobby his wife disapproves of more and more. The trouble in Dan’s marriage—mostly related to his solitary nature and inaction—propels the story forward as he muses over his relationships and allows it to hold him back. He goes to Knoxville charged with asking his brother for a share of the inheritance, which he was mysteriously denied. Dan is intimidated by Roger’s grand house, his country club and his seemingly perfect marriage, but as he discovers, his brother’s life isn’t all that perfect. Vondohlen is a masterful storyteller who impressively dramatizes a cerebral character and his highly analytical thoughts. The writing is refined and lyrical: “I was increasingly able to hold the mere thought of whiskey in my head in the same way that I considered work projects or women,” Dan says. “I could linger over my preferences, from brands to glassware to ice, and I could imagine the look of a fresh pour melting a nest of perfectly clear ice cubes as clearly as though I was standing by a museum exhibit.” Weaving a story between old memories and new ideas, the introspective novel will get caught in readers’ minds.
A cerebral, contemplative story that looks inside relationships and what can hold us back.