Gilbert's elegiac first novel traces the aftershocks of a tragedy decades in the past on a marriage that has since dissolved.
The novel opens with a fresh tragedy. Murray, 62 and the head coach for the women's cross country team at Yale, has taken his star athlete, Becky, out for an early morning run on a golf course when she falls, presumably hit by an errant golf ball, and receives a life-threatening concussion. Overtaken by guilt, Murray makes obsessive plans for Becky's return to training for the Olympics despite the fact that her brain has been perhaps irretrievably damaged. He finds himself thinking about his ex-wife, from whom he has been separated for 16 years. The novel moves fluidly between the points of view of Murray, whose already fragile mental state begins to deteriorate as the boundaries between his memories and his present experience blur, and that of ex-wife Nancy. Gilbert doesn't pick a side in the conflict between the two, instead allowing the reader to see how their fundamental differences led to their difficulty in continuing what began as a strong relationship. Quietly and without melodrama, she juxtaposes scenes from the past with those from the present. While most readers are likely to predict the event that led to the breakup of their marriage before the novel reveals it, and some might wish for a more original source of discord, Gilbert keeps her eye on subtle mental states rather than shocking events. Murray's breakdown is all the more riveting because it is so gradual. Gilbert has a clear grasp of the New Haven setting, and a subplot concerning the effects of Murray's rigid approach to discipline on his runners adds a layer of complexity to the narrative.
A carefully plotted and cautiously hopeful novel about ties that outlast marriage.