In Halstead’s debut, young Jamie Paddock is pulled home to the hard-worn, poverty-stricken West Virginia mountains by the apparent suicide of his father.
Jamie was smart enough to earn entrance to New York University, leaving coal-mining country behind, but his education lasted only one anxiety-ridden year. Dropping out, Jamie begins writing scripts for an advertising company. Now word’s come that his beloved father has jumped from the towering New River Gorge Bridge. Flashbacks aside, most of Jamie’s tale takes place in his home state among folks "educated beyond their intelligence...knowing just enough to understand how miserable their lives actually were." The mystery of his father’s death will grow as Jamie encounters more family secrets. His mother, with multiple sclerosis, and his sister, introverted and isolated because of epilepsy, are single-wide-trailer–trapped by West Virginia’s poverty and without a "sense of possibility." Other supporting characters are archetypes: Sara, a Manhattan hookup with whom Jamie finds kinship while she battles depression with cutting and drugs; Jon, Jamie’s boss, is riding a tech trend till it crashes and burns; and, more sympathetically, Jen, gallery manager at Tamarack, a West Virginia art center, whom Jamie finds intriguing. Halstead’s descriptions are thoroughly artistic, whether they're of the party scene or the big city’s gritty human rainbow or the strip-mined mountains and franchise-glutted highways. With a protagonist plagued by inner conflict and angst, the novel is generally bleak, but it closes with an allusion to better days to come.
No Look Homeward Angel this; rather a hapless family and road-trip blues.