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TO HEAVEN BY WATER by Justin Cartwright Kirkus Star


by Justin Cartwright

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59691-621-0
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A family regroups after the death of its nurturing matriarch in this tender, unsparing novel by Whitbread Award winner Cartwright (The Song Before It Is Sung, 2007, etc.).

Nearly a year after Nancy Cross’s death, her children still feel off-balance without her. Her son Ed, 32 years old and a rising star at a London law firm, is increasingly oppressed by wife Rosalie’s obsession with having a baby and drifts into a casual affair. Daughter Lucy, 26, is cataloguing Roman coins at an auction house and trying to shake off a creepy ex-boyfriend. They both wish their father David, a recently retired TV anchorman, would stop working out obsessively and behave more like a widower. David can’t tell his children that he is “in some ways happier now that their mother is dead.” He loved Nancy, but “he limited the range of his heart deliberately” after a summer in Rome during the 1960s that ended with the drowning of the girl he was sleeping with. Memories of that summer recur throughout; David had a small part in a film of Dr. Faustus starring Richard Burton, and he sometimes feels that he too sold his soul for material success he doesn’t entirely value. As events come to a crisis in London, David heads to the Kalahari Desert, where his older brother Guy has for years been seeking spiritual transcendence. But this is not a novel about leaving the world behind; Guy is in fact something of a nut, and David returns to find Rosalie pregnant, Ed in a new job in Geneva and Lucy promoted at the auction house, making a life with a sweet new boyfriend she plans to marry. A baptism and an embrace from David’s closest male friend end this moving tale, replete with the autumnal understanding that our lives are fashioned from compromise and from adjustments to those we love—and no less valuable for all that.

There’s not a wasted word or a false emotion in this elegant, meditative work from a mature master.