Journalist and short story author Hauser’s debut novel.
The book begins with a fateful meeting: Vincent Pareto, a wood-shop teacher in a Boston-area public school, is concerned about his daughter Cynthia’s apparent depression and considering putting her in a mental hospital. For advice, he turns to Henry Wheeling, a former student who is now a psychologist. Henry advises, perhaps too casually, in favor of hospitalization. Thus begins the crumbling of two marriages and an ultimately tragic series of events. Vincent and his wife, Mary, are crippled by their love for Cynthia, which distances them as a couple and leads to some questionable decisions as parents. Vincent’s self-doubt is compounded by the threat of a layoff from his school. Meanwhile, Henry has drifted into an affair with a student while his pregnant wife, Lucy, who is the book’s most vividly drawn character, takes off to Texas in an attempt to sort out the distance she feels from her husband and unborn child. Like many first novels, this one tries to fit a little too much in. Some of its scenes, including an early one at a traveling circus, are beautifully written but shed no real light on the plot or characters. Worse, the sudden death of a major character happens offstage and is never fully explained.
The obvious point is that the closest of intimates can never really know each other, but an unexplained death seems a mistake in a book that otherwise succeeds by examining the inner lives of its characters.