In Hughes’ (Mindful of Him, 2014) latest novel, a young preacher discovers on his wedding night that he’s married a woman with a serious mental illness—one that will devastate both their lives.
Newlyweds Mack Baldwin and Rebecca Allen, both 22, are spending their first night as man and wife when she explains that she strongly believes that sex is sinful. Later, after Rebecca’s behavior grows increasingly erratic, she’s diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized; at one point, she believes that “someone had wired her womb to a hot line in the Kremlin.” Hughes is a terrific storyteller and an even better crafter of characters. In Mack, he’s performed the near miracle of portraying a preacher who’s not preachy; he comes off as more of a saint than a sinner, yet he’s fully human and experiences a realistic gamut of emotions in trying circumstances. Loyal to his wife and his Lord, he wrestles with issues of duty, grief and faith. When he has a moral lapse after years of absolute devotion to Rebecca, who contracts Alzheimer’s later in life, it’s impossible to judge him harshly, even though he berates himself. Hughes’ plot entails more than just the sad, unconsummated relationship between Rebecca and Mack, however; Mack’s life is also revealed through his relationships with friends, parishioners, his in-laws and nature. The older, wiser characters who counsel Mack are a joy to read about. They encourage him to pursue hobbies such as fishing and hiking, and Hughes’ descriptions of the outdoors are often lovely, as in this Gulf Coast scene: “Nowhere was the passing of day into the night more beautiful nor more sweetly sad than when it sank into the ocean—so different than on land.” Hughes sometimes switches points of view from third person to first, and occasionally writes dialogue in a way that makes it unclear who’s speaking; tighter editing would have corrected these distractions and kept readers focused on the novel’s big question: Will Mack get another chance at a happy life?
An elegant, tenderly written story of love and loss.