A year in the life of a family that suffers a tragic loss.
Margaret is gardening, while ruefully reflecting on the knowledge that her husband, commercial real estate exec Roger, has been having an affair. Indeed, at that moment, Roger is in Florida, in his mistress Julia’s arms. Margaret and Roger’s daughter, Maura, is walking her three children to school when she receives an intriguing text to which she must respond. In that instant, everything changes: Her oldest son, James, his bike zigzagging in and out of school traffic, is hit by a teenage driver, Alex. James lingers for a week and then dies. Roger, whose ardor for Julia has cooled as he faces retirement and old age, must now spend more time at home as Margaret assumes their devastated daughter's parenting and household duties. Maura's husband, Pete, who never outgrew his college drinking habits, is struggling to accept his son’s death, but the crisis also brings home the increasing distance between him and Maura. As she gradually fights her way back from despair, Maura must cope with the guilt of knowing that at that crucial second she was distracted, taking her eye off James, she was texting another man. Exacerbating her anguish, Alex has been holding a silent nightly vigil outside her house. Told from Margaret’s, Maura’s and Roger’s vantage points, an accretion of daily details depicts how a typical upper-middle-class family in the Chicago suburbs copes with a major trauma. Woodruff does not explore the edgier areas her subject matter suggests. For the most part, the main characters resist their baser impulses, and the novel is somewhat duller as a result.
Earnest and life-affirming, but a bit too tame.