THE DEPENDENTS by Katharine Dion


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An introverted older man deals with the grief of losing his wife.

Dion's melancholy, meditative debut dwells in the head of Gene Ashe, a widower after 49 years of marriage. It opens with a scene at the beach that conveys both Gene's crankiness and his melancholy: "The beach was crowded, a cluttered heap of pink skin, chipped toenail polish, ice chests, crumpled tin foil..."; a group of teenage girls beside him emits "a collective shriek that he vaguely recognized as a form of laughter"; "His interest in other people lay primarily in the mystery of their happiness." Through this lens of gloom, we gradually collect the details of his life. He has one adult child, a daughter, who is perennially irritated with him, and a close friendship with a couple he and his wife have known since their college days, though he is just as habitually annoyed by the husband as his daughter is with him. Adding to his woes at the beginning of the novel is the need to write a eulogy for his wife; even with the help of a how-to site on the internet, he is unable to get past four words: "Something definite was lost." When the memorial service does occur, he is hurt and bewildered by the speeches given by his daughter and by his wife's best friend. At this point, since Gene's health is failing, his daughter hires him a caretaker who at first seems to offer not just housekeeping, but relief from loneliness. As the weeks and months go by, Gene sorts through his memories, some of them perplexing and seeming to suggest that his wife had secrets from him. At this novel's most successful moments, the depiction of Gene's mental state achieves the eloquence and insight of C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed: "It amazed him he could still remember so much about the particular way she had inhabited the world. Such intimacy, to think of these things, to know exactly the way she had cared for her own body or moved it through space."

Intelligent and profound but quite depressing.

Pub Date: June 19th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-316-47387-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2018


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