Van Dyck’s novel (Finding Frances, 2010, etc.) explores a community of friends who, after 21 years apart, must return to their hometown in order to uncover some dark truths.
Maria DeLuca’s brother, Tee, was murdered; a local boy was convicted, and his prison term has just concluded. After Tee’s death, Maria married Mike, her brother’s best friend, an event that marked the beginning of her life’s downward spiral into misery. Despite Maria’s success as a motivational speaker, Mike’s physical and emotional abuse decimated her confidence. Now, Mike, long-estranged from Maria and at the end of a hopeless battle against pancreatic cancer, calls all of his teenage friends to his sickbed—friends who, like Maria, have never overcome Tee’s death and who, more importantly, have been hurt by Mike’s boundless selfishness and rage. Van Dyck unflinchingly addresses many heavy topics in her novel: rape, miscarriages, drug abuse. The novel is strongest after the initial narrative setup; the latter half takes place at Mike’s bedside, where he discloses all the truths he has withheld since the day Tee died. While the truths Mike belatedly learns hold interest, it’s Mike and Maria’s relationship that drive the story. The mistakes that the novel explores are not past acts—not bullying a fellow student, not drinking too many beers—but mistakes of love. Van Dyck deftly illustrates how difficult these heartfelt errors are to avoid and how deeply they scar.
Despite some predictable plot turns and rather heavy-handed dialogue, the tension among the characters creates a compelling and highly readable novel.