A desperate man gets drawn back into a world he hoped to escape in this bleak character study.
As William Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”—a sentiment Quinton Deane, the protagonist of Cohen’s second novel, can appreciate. At the novel’s opening, Quinton loses his job as a horse groomer—the only job he could get after doing 15 years for safecracking—and with no other real options, he takes a rich mill owner’s offer to become a scab in his home town of Nezinscot, where the mill and local union have been locked in a bitter year-long strike. His hometown isn’t welcoming, though, between his scab status and the town’s long memories. Only Newland, Quinton’s estranged son, seems to offer Quinton any real connection, but Newland has his own issues: maimed in a car accident, rejected by his girlfriend and on the fence for future work as far as the union is concerned. When the opportunity to resume his criminal career arises, both Quinton and Newland have to reassess their burgeoning relationship and their identities. Despite the narrative focus on Quinton’s criminal past and his activities in Nezinscot, the heart of the story is the development of the relationship between reluctant father and dispossessed son, as both men try to discover some connection. Each is rendered in detail, and although that level of attention doesn’t extend to other characters, the Deane men and their interaction drive the story. Where the novel shines is in the depiction of a small town, depressed in economy and character, on the edge of extinction; Nezinscot becomes a vital third character and illuminates why the characters act and feel the way they do.
A well-rendered central relationship and vivid setting make Cohen’s novel an affecting, if overlong, read.