A husband and wife deal with their growing estrangement and the aftereffects of violence as they make an increasingly hazardous road trip.
The setup of Pittard’s third novel is a simple and effective one: a cross-country journey in which an already-frayed marriage is pushed to its limit, even as the landscape through which the characters travel turns increasingly ominous. Mark and Maggie are traveling east from Chicago to visit family along with their dog, Gerome. Maggie is still struggling with the psychological fallout of a mugging, and the affinity the two once felt has withered, making the minor quarrels of a long drive take on added significance. The fact that they’re traveling through an area suffering from a power outage ratchets up the tension further. The novel is at its strongest when Pittard evokes the instability that can arise on the margins of catastrophic events: the effects of the outage on familiar roadside sights lends a memorable sense of disquiet to the proceedings. An ambiguous encounter between Maggie and a stranger at a rest stop is equally haunting: has she encountered a sociopath in transit, or have the aftereffects of trauma altered her perception of everyday situations? For all that Pittard effectively builds tension throughout the book, its conclusion does feel somewhat rushed, as a random interaction with a minor character escalates quickly, as opposed to a more organic resolution. Pittard does leave some ambiguity with the hopeful note with which she closes, and Mark’s musings on technology and community provide an interesting counterpoint to the proceedings.
Though its conclusion feels abrupt, there’s plenty of moodiness and societal commentary to be found in Pittard’s taut novel.