Cancer. An overdue mortgage. An unexpected pregnancy. All weigh upon Calvin Moretti, film-major graduate, special-education teacher assistant and vaguely guilty semi-slacker.
Cal actually is responsible for none of these troubles. He has dropped out of grad school and taken work as a teacher’s assistant in a school for autistic children, a job he’s good at but disengaged from. But he does live at home, where his father copes with cancer, bemoans his loss of his flying career and obsesses about death. Meantime Cal’s harried mother stretches disability benefits to cover bills and stave off foreclosure on their suburban New York City home. Cal’s older brother, Chip, also residing at home, brings a substantial paycheck home from the city, but neither Chip nor Cal are ready to assume responsibility, financial or otherwise. That doesn’t dissuade Cal’s younger sister Elissa, a high-school senior, from confiding in him that she’s pregnant. Therein lies D’Agostino’s narrative arc. Mired in ennui, Cal watches independent and self-aware Elissa struggle with her decision to keep her child-to-be even while reaching out to empathize with her father. Cal soon experiences a series of convoluted self-realizations suggesting he can accept that life and love carry responsibilities, to family and self. The book is modern realism, eavesdropping on a family big on hugs, vocal expressions of love and lacing casual conversations with the F-word as they live a life less perfect with sardonic humor and fatalism. D’Agostino sketches a memorable turning point in a scene involving a wedding and a gunshot, an occasion that blasts Cal out of the boredom generated by a world of unearned comfort toward an existentialist awareness. Cal’s character is well-defined, one that grows in likability. Surprisingly, so does the self-centered Chip. Elissa is more foil than central to the narrative, but the older Morettis mirror modern woes that cast shadows upon the American dream.
D'Agostino's fiction debut winningly describes the millennial generation exploring the borders of love and responsibility.