A nine-year-old tries to cope with his mother’s death.
Sebby Lane and his mother shared tendencies that made their family both love and worry about them. Sensitive, impulsive and sometimes shut down, the two understood each other without language or even thought. When Sebby was a toddler, his mother would wake him in the dead of night, strap him into his stroller and take him for a run. Sebby loved the sound of her bare feet slapping against the road. She occasionally ran naked, her skin alabaster in the moonlight. Now she is dead—hit by a car during a solo late-night run—and everyone in the family—Sebby’s professor father, sister Cass, a high-school senior, and brother Leo, a sophomore—is emotionally derailed. Cass takes on the responsibility of running the household, since their increasingly remote father lets everything slide. Leo spends more time in the library. And Sebby, who narrates, barely holds on. School, which was never easy for Sebby, becomes unbearable. His father decides to take Sebby away to their summer house, even though it’s November, leaving Cass and Leo behind to fend for themselves. In their isolation, the father and son sleepwalk through their days and nights in a stunned pantomime of a life. Sometimes the father finds Sebby hiding underneath the kitchen table. Another time Sebby finds his father underneath his bed. Who can save whom becomes the urgent through-line of this spare, elegiac novel. According to publicity materials, the author intended to sympathetically showcase Asperger’s Syndrome, but since readers only meet Sebby after his mother dies—and since all the other family members grieve in their own idiosyncratic ways—that aspect of the novel pales. What does come through strong and clear, however, is the author’s impressive ability to connect with and portray the myopic grief of a bereft child.
A promising debut.