A mother faces the heartbreaking loss of an infant son, which inevitably changes the family dynamics.
Ricky Ryrie and her husband John react to the death of their child in different ways. First, Ricky knows that the child was prenatally diagnosed with a serious brain defect and probably would not live long, but she keeps this diagnosis from her husband, who fully expects the birth of a healthy son. (Ricky has not considered an abortion at least in part because of her hope of a misdiagnosis.) John is perhaps more stunned by Ricky’s keeping this a secret than by the medical complication of his son. But John has also had a secret past, for before he met Ricky he fathered a child, Jess, in a youthful fling. Ten years before the birth of the doomed child, his daughter Jess has gone on a camping trip with her father, Ricky, and the two younger Ryrie children, Paul and Biscuit. Shortly after the birth and death of the Ryries’ baby, Jess, now 23 and pregnant, shows up again on their doorstep. Jess is unconventional and free-spirited, and Paul, now an awkward adolescent, is both tongue-tied and half in love with her. Biscuit knows that there’s sadness in the household and tries to act out her grief in various ways, including spreading ashes in a river. The death of the child also brings back unsavory events from Ricky’s life—for example, a brief affair from three months before her marriage to John.
With gorgeous prose, Cohen skillfully takes us from past to present and back again as she explores the ramifications of family loss, grief and longing.