Morris’ debut novel is a slow-moving tale of one man’s lifelong descent into substance addiction and its long-lasting impact on him and the people around him.
Academically gifted Tom Jerold, a competent engineer, lives a comfortable middle-class life with his loving second wife and two children after he escaped substance abuse and institutionalization. Tom’s second downward spiral starts with a short, tawdry affair, followed by a return to drinking and the losses of his family and job. Tom quickly settles into a state of ennui: “I couldn’t seem to get serious about finding another job, perhaps because I could no longer imagine taking a job seriously.” As detailed in a dozen of journals covering a number of years, Tom’s jobs and relationships continue to deteriorate as he struggles to find a place where he fits in but runs away before it can happen. “I knew the booze and the dope were killing me,” he says. “The relationship stuff, though, it felt good. A lot of guys, including me, kind of turned to those intense flings as our reward for being sober. When you stop throwing up on people and wetting the bed, you’ve got a better shot at hooking up.” The only constant is a photo of two balanced rocks from a place he found happiness years before. It’s to this park that his children, Jolene and Mark (himself an addict), bring his cremated ashes after his untimely death in an effort to better understand the father that kept coming in and out of their lives. To better define Tom and what made him that way, Morris smoothly alternates between Tom’s depressing freefall and his children’s journey after he dies. The problem ultimately lies in the fact that Tom isn’t developed into a character about whom readers will truly care. He seems almost indifferent to sobriety, with the narrative making clear that he cares little for those closest to him, particularly for himself. Instead, the novel is about a life wasted. As he says, “Nearly every attempt by me at any kind of spiritual awakening that had any enduring effect fell short.”
A turgid cautionary tale about addiction that hammers home its point over and over again.