Playwright Harrington’s first novel, based on her one-woman musical, focuses on the upstate New York family of a National Guard reservist called into service during the Iraq War.
Salt-of-the-earth Matt Bliss considers it his moral obligation to serve his country, although he hates leaving behind his beloved, distraught wife Angie and his daughters: 8-year-old Ellie and 15-year-old Alice. Once he’s left for duty, Angie throws herself into her insurance career but can barely function domestically. Precocious Ellie starts wetting the bed and reading Matt’s dictionary aloud. Stalwart Alice, with whom Matt has always shared a special bond, tries to pick up the slack at home with only minimal success. For support she turns to her longtime best friend Henry, the unbelievably caring boy every mother hopes her teenage daughter will luck into as her first love. At the cusp of adolescence, Alice finds their relationship changing in confusing ways, especially when an older, popular but equally sensitive boy named John shows an interest in her. Teenage romance takes the passenger seat when word comes that Matt has been declared MIA. Fortunately, the Blisses receive succor from Angie’s mother and brother, as well as many friends in their idyllic small town. Angie rises to the challenge, helping her daughters function day by day. By the time they learn Matt's fate, Angie and Alice have struggled past minor mother-daughter tensions to offer each other consolation. Alice is in many ways a different girl by story's end. The novel closes with a lovely image that theatrically arcs back to the opening scene.
It feels curmudgeonly to fault Harrington’s earnest, uplifting (and apolitical) approach to this topical subject, but the surfeit of sensitivity weakens its impact and the reader's interest.