An accident forces a man to return to his small Iowa hometown and confront violent secrets from his past, ones he’s kept hidden from his wife.
Sarah Quinlan thought she knew everything about her husband, Jack: an accident killed his parents when he was 15 so he left Penny Gate, Iowa, and has only been back once. But when the couple gets news that Jack’s beloved aunt Julia, who raised Jack and his younger sister, Amy, after their parents’ deaths, is gravely injured in a fall, the prodigal son returns. Gudenkauf (Little Mercies, 2014, etc.) makes it clear from the start that nothing should be taken at face value, not Jack’s story about his parents (his mother was actually bludgeoned to death, and his father, now MIA, was the prime suspect) or the seemingly idyllic small-town atmosphere. This, however, does little to heighten the suspense as advice columnist Sarah takes on the role of amateur detective in sniffing out Quinlan family secrets past and present. Through her we meet Jack’s terse cousin Dean and his too-perfect wife, Celia, along with Julia’s husband, Hal, who became like a father to Jack in the wake of his own family tragedy, and Amy, who couldn’t be more stereotypically “troubled.” Jack and Amy’s tragic past, which becomes the central mystery of the plot once Sarah figures out that her husband has been lying to her for two decades, is tied to Julia’s not-so-accidental fall, but only for the purposes of a neatly sewn-up plot.
Light on surprises and character development, this tepid thriller will have most astute readers correctly guessing the ending halfway through.