Three wounded souls are locked in a love triangle that grows increasingly complicated.
When Chicago native Martin Reed gets a modest inheritance from his aunt Alice, he uses the money to buy a dilapidated house in remote Whitefish Harbor, on Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, a place that, from the time he was very young, has filled Martin’s head with mythical stories. He finds practical and emotional support in his new home from salty older cousin Joseph Pearl Blankenship, a.k.a. Pearly. Then a casual friendship with high-school senior Hannah LeClaire blossoms into romance, even though Martin is a decade the older. The previous year, after Hannah became pregnant by longtime boyfriend Sean Colby and had an abortion, Sean joined the Army and headed overseas. Now, some unspecified trouble in Italy (made progressively clearer to the reader via shortcuts sprinkled throughout the narrative) has led to his abrupt discharge and return home. Volatile and depressed, Sean expects to pick up where he left off with Hannah, and he goes over the edge when he learns of Hannah and Martin’s relationship. His father Frank, a local police officer, gets him a summer police job, which Sean uses to begin an escalating campaign of harassment against Martin. When Frank gets into trouble with the city because of Sean’s actions, he turns on his son, throwing him out of the house and sending him further into a tailspin. Sean moves in with oldest friend Arnie, who runs a gas station, but they soon fall out as well. Matters come to a head when Martin suffers a near-fatal attack at Sean’s hands that leaves him with serious head injuries and no memory. Everyone involved grimly understands that matters can only end badly.
Second-novelist Smolens (Cold, 2001) is especially deft at capturing the rhythms of small-town life and the complexity of his “ordinary” people. Incisive portraits of town denizens add texture.