After his wife’s suicide, a small-town high school football coach and his family navigate grief and forgiveness in Gersen’s emotionally nuanced debut.
In his corner of rural Maryland, Dean Renner is a local hero, a big fish in a small pond: he’s the high school football coach in a town where high school football makes you an icon. Father of three. Married to Willowboro’s hometown sweetheart, the beautiful, tragic Nicole. But when Nicole commits suicide—a shock to pretty much everyone outside of the immediate family (she was, Dean notes, “so easy to project happiness onto”)—Dean and his three kids are left to rebuild their lives while making sense of earth-shattering loss. At 8, Bryan, the youngest and the kindest, is becoming increasingly immersed in his Aunt Joelle’s fundamentalist church, much to Dean’s (mostly) unspoken dismay. Eleven-year-old Robbie, sensitive and sullen, has started sneaking out of school for illicit lunchtime walkabouts. And Stephanie—technically Dean’s stepdaughter—is supposed to be immersed in her new life as a freshman at Swarthmore, but her anger and grief keep pulling her back toward home. Meanwhile, Dean, struggling to keep his family functioning and afloat, finds himself face to face with his past and—slowly, painfully, sometimes joyfully—coming to terms with a future that’s nothing like the once he’d planned. A book that simmers rather than burns, its quiet power comes from its meticulous attention to the details of grief. That meticulousness sometimes verges on plodding—occasionally, the book does seem to drag—and it’s possible to wish the story felt just a touch less familiar. Still, Gersen’s characters are so full, so gently flawed, and so deeply human that it’s nearly impossible to resist falling into their world, with all its sorrow and all its subtle joy.
A moving all-American family saga; fiction’s answer to Friday Night Lights.