Canty (Where the Money Went, 2009, etc.) continues to hone his skills in creating nuanced and complex love relationships.
The narrative begins with RL and June’s annual ritual of going down to the river and drinking Johnnie Walker Red to celebrate the birthday of Taylor, RL’s friend and June’s husband, who died 11 years earlier. June, a hospice worker, is about ready to move on and find a new direction for her life, while RL, who owns an outdoors shop, is still not sure what shape his life is in. He’s divorced and has one child, 19-year-old Layla. She’s both a college student and an outdoorswoman, and is finding herself dissatisfied with her current love interest, Daniel, eight years her senior, a graduate student and would-be poet who’s serially unfaithful. More to her liking is Edgar, who works for RL and is an artist manqué. Edgar has a wife and daughter—and another on the way—but he and Layla become seriously involved, and Layla finds herself pregnant with his child. Even these relationships become more convoluted when Betsy, RL’s girlfriend from way back when, needs lodging when she goes in to a local hospital for chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Both cynical and lost, RL takes up with Betsy again and finds himself pulled into a love relationship that involves him at a deeper level than he’d anticipated. Amid the drinking and futility emerge some hints of hope. At the end Edgar has an epiphany arising from the evanescence of a cloud, “a ragged cloud of white against the dark spring sky, a bit of vapor, of nothing, and yet he recognized it: the start of something.” Other characters are able to tap into this same assurance.
While a summary of Canty’s novel reads like a soap opera, his deft handling of complicated love relationships and self-anguish raises the narrative to a more exalted level.