Photojournalist and artist Bernie Perkins is surrounded by a loving French mother, a truculent father who's also his boss, an unfaithful wife, and a four-year-old son. In this ardent but uneven novel, he proceeds to lose all.
Just as things are at their worst with Bernie and his wife, she accidentally runs over and kills their son, and soon after the funeral, leaves Bernie. Numbed by his double loss, Bernie continues writing and taking photos for the Trib, the local paper owned by his father, and volunteering at the local women's shelter. A decent, thoughtful man, Bernie responds with sensitivity–although not very effectively–to one crisis after another. When his rough-edged dad secretly sabotages Bernie's run for city council, Bernie remains silent in order to avoid upsetting his mother. When a neighbor's daughter asks Bernie for advice with an essay in which she describes sexual abuse by her father, he approaches the subject delicately, fearful of making a mistake. When a damaged transformer sets his neighbor's house on fire, Bernie grabs a hose and races to the rescue, while his own house, unprotected, burns to the ground. As the pressure on him mounts, his comfort comes from surfing, painting, learning to cook from his mother, and pursuing a series of women. Although the story periodically languishes in melodrama–and despite the need for more aggressive editing–Bernie's plight remains compelling. After his mother is shot and killed by a crazed husband on the front steps of the women's shelter, Bernie's suicide attempt seems almost inevitable: how much more can this man take? His recovery is aided by Alan Greensberg, a psychiatrist who works at the women's shelter and who has suffered his own share of tragedies, and by his own determination to fulfill his mother's wishes, which he learns in a dream: to forgive his father and marry Meredith, a woman he's loved for years.
A tale of personal despair and recovery, and a careful look at domestic violence. The grace in Bernie's character lifts this novel well above its flaws.