ALL THE NUMBERS by Judy Merrill Larsen


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A pallid debut of revenge and redemption as a woman grieves the death of her young son.

Ellen Banks lives a fairly typical American life—she’s a divorced working mother of two boys, with a dog, a cat and a nice old house in Madison, Wisc. During the summer, the three vacation at college friends Anna and Sam’s lake house, and it’s there one August that all normality is destroyed. While playing in the water, 11-year-old James is accidentally hit by a teenager on a Jet Ski. Rushed to the hospital, James is alive, but the doctors warn that with a head trauma, the next 48 hours will reveal his true condition. A good portion of the story takes place in the hospital as Ellen is tormented by her son’s dire condition, but the drama is nonexistent. The reader knows James will die, and the emotional landscape is sadly generic—Ellen is numb, enraged, helpless, and her conversations with friends and family are the stuff of TV medical dramas. After James’s death, Ellen carries on with life, though there are noticeable fissures—her relationship with older son Daniel cools as he learns to fend for himself, she loses weight and becomes unfocused and eschews the kind attentions of Bob Hansen, the attorney prosecuting the case. The two begin dating, but Ellen shies away when she considers that their relationship would be built on the death of her son. Eventually, Ellen pins all her hopes of emotional recovery on the trial to convict the teen who ran into James. Her need for revenge is unquestioned by friends and family (though her mother tries to broach the subject) and the novel glides over the interesting moral issue until Ellen sees light and learns forgiveness. Although the author builds a tender portrait of Ellen and her two boys, particularly the memories she has of James, the story is too predictable and the characterizations too thin to make it engaging or original.

The kind of uninspired melodrama seen on made-for-TV movies.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-345-48536-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2006