Kasten’s (The De-Conversion of Kit Lamb, 2010) latest novel centers on a middle-aged clinical psychologist who returns home after her father’s death and her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Leaving California—where she built a life counseling patients, participating in local politics, and meeting friends for drinks and dancing—Davida Grayson moves back to her hometown of Still Water, Kan., to sew up her parents’ loose ends. There she discovers that her recently deceased, emotionally abusive father, who owned a profitable hardware store, and her mother, who now lives in a nursing home, have a dark secret that haunts Davida throughout the novel. Davida’s high school boyfriend resurfaces, bringing with him disturbing memories of a cruel joke he played on her. When Davida meets him during a chance encounter, their freighted conversation makes her believe that he has begun stalking her. These events, coupled with the harrows of visiting her increasingly addled mother, force Davida to question her own perceptions of reality—an emotional disorientation she tries to palliate with alcohol. Despite all this, Davida still offers long-distance therapy to three clients whose anxieties and ailments conveniently align with her own struggles. Davida decides to perform a bit of psychoanalysis on herself, dredging up the events of her childhood to figure out why her grip on reality has been slipping and why her judgment of her parents may be too unforgiving. At times vivid and evocative, the story is overburdened by lengthy jags of exposition, conveniences of plot and an ethos usually found in pop psychology. These flaws serve to detract from the otherwise riveting mystery at the novel’s core. Told in limpid, at times maudlin prose, the narrative often feels like a memoir; Davida occasionally stumbles into a position of omniscience, making it difficult for readers to suspend disbelief. Thankfully, the plot’s serpentine twists will propel readers through to the satisfying end.
An uneven though readable novel about making sense of family history beset by secrets and pain.