Milchman’s debut novel follows Nora Hamilton as she puzzles through the inexplicable and sudden suicide of her young husband, Brendan.
Nora awakens one morning to find her bed cold and empty and her husband, a police officer in a small town not too far from New York City, missing. She climbs out of bed with a sense of foreboding and discovers that Brendan has inexplicably hanged himself in their home. An outsider in the small village of Wedeskyull, Nora finds herself the object of intense scrutiny by his fellow police officers and targeted by the piercing scorn that radiates from Brendan’s mother, Eileen. Soon, Nora begins to unravel the mystery of what could have compelled her husband to choose to end his life without any warning. She unearths both a childhood filled with blame for an accident that took place many years before she came to town and a strange, autistic man-child named Dugger who offers Nora some cryptic clues into what might have driven Brendan to destroy himself and their marriage. Along the way, Nora picks up an ally or two in the form of a local newspaper reporter and her husband’s aunt but finds herself leaning more and more on her sister, Teggie, for moral support until the truth finally comes out. Milchman makes the reader feel the chill right down to their bones and casts a particularly effective mood in this stylish thriller; but her storytelling falters when placed under the microscope of logic. The clues with which Nora pieces together the mystery of what’s actually happening in Wedeskyull and why a happily married man like Brendan would kill himself are so obscure and easily overlooked that it’s difficult to believe a grieving widow would zero in on them with such unerring precision. The ensuing investigation seems illogical and disjointed with the introduction of characters whose only apparent function is to take up literary space.
Nice writing, but Nora’s meandering investigation only makes a confusing plot even more so in a tale populated by irrelevant details and vague side journeys.