Ponderous, quietly affecting debut takes a single father’s grief over his son’s suicide to surprising turns.
At first plunge, there isn’t much to recommend this slow-going melodrama. Indiana college professor Jack Owens was too absorbed by end-of-semester grading of his students’ films to notice any problems with his son and only child—but then came the grim news of 15-year-old Danny’s suicide. The boy’s body was found down by the Wabash River in May, apparently by bag suffocation. Jack is racked by guilt, since his wife, and Danny’s mother, Anne, abandoned the family many years before, vanishing back into her life as a New York artist, unable to balance her roles as painter and mother. Jack and his son subsequently made a kind of pact that if father and son did their best, and made their sacrifices, nothing bad could happen to them. For Jack, sacrifice meant breaking up with a woman he cared for so that Danny wouldn’t be “confused.” Now, after the seemingly senseless suicide, Jack grows dejected and dangerously depressed, but eventually opens up to the kindly detective in the case, Marty Foulk, who reveals the details of another apparent suicide some months before, that of a ten-year-old boy. Jack has little to go by except the testimony of Danny’s friends, who hint at psychological distress two weeks before Danny’s death—just around the time the other suicide took place. Journalist and TV writer Saul moves with excruciating slowness in delineating Jack’s grief, almost unbearably so, inserting along the way memories of happier times, when the family was united and living a bohemian life in the East Village; Anne’s selfish desertion of the family now seems the fatal cruel blow—and yet Jack must endure more grief than he can imagine.
On the bland side, but Saul manages to insinuate a clean, edgy ending: overall, a debut with enormous depth of characterization and sympathy.