An engaging novel about overcoming loss and picking up the pieces.
When Judy’s husband, Jack, dies of cancer, she takes off in her RV in hopes of piecing together her shattered heart piece by piece and state by state as she travels across the country. She temporarily leaves her home and grooming business behind in sunny California and makes her way out to a friend in Florida. In addition to the radio, she’s joined by her new cat and a man-sized doll she made (whom she refers to as Jack Incarnate) for the 5,000 miles to Florida and back. In between new places and new faces, Judy thinks back to the relationship she had with Jack: when they first met at an AA meeting while drinking coffee, the time he was almost put behind bars for spousal abuse, etc. Though rough-around-the-edges Jack certainly had his fair share of baggage, he truly loved Judy, and she loved him back. Now that he’s gone, Judy has to make her way without him and count up all the good and bad that came with their relationship. In her debut novel, Howard conveys pitiless reality with beauty and eloquence. “I felt like a dried leaf clinging to a branch, hoping to hang on as the cold harsh wind blew cruelly against my brittle spine,” she writes. Despite the numerous brutal, intense battles between Judy and Jack, it’s nearly impossible not to relate to her on some level, as she’s so real and vulnerable. Most of all, she’s a survivor who manages to move on from the relationship that dictated much of her life. Though it could be easy to write off Jack as a villain, Howard portrays in him the many layers that each of us contend with—it’s what makes us all so complex. She doesn’t make excuses for his behavior, but there’s a sense of sadness in everything he himself suffered, which, to a certain degree, made him who he was. The frivolous title doesn’t capture the mature spirit of Judy’s mindset.
Beautifully written and real to the core.