Feelings run riot as five parents reproach themselves for being bad mommies and daddies.
Front and center is Ethan Denton, a young man in the small, unfashionable mountain town of Angels Crest, California. Ethan is euphoric: He has just gained full custody of his three-year-old son Nate after a bitter divorce from Cindy, his former high-school sweetheart and now a raging alcoholic. The story starts with Ethan driving Nate up the mountain to experience the majesty of Nature. Curiously, the normally dependable Ethan leaves Nate alone in his unlocked car and returns to find him missing. Nate will turn up dead in the snow and Ethan will spend the rest of the novel writhing in remorse. Cindy feels bad, too. Admittedly, this was not her screw-up, but hadn’t she swigged vodka while suckling her baby? Other townspeople with bad family histories are Rocksan and Jane, long-time lesbian partners. Rocksan, the masculine one, has been angry since age six, when her father split; and Jane abandoned her baby, George, putting sexual desire before motherhood. The guilt has gnawed at her for 20 years. Now George shows up with his very pregnant girlfriend Melody, and Jane, passing up opportunities to drive the two to the hospital, calmly delivers the baby and wipes away her guilt. Then there’s Rocksan’s sister Angie, who runs the diner and can’t forgive herself for rushing into a second marriage and alienating her daughter Rachel; she’s making amends by raising Rachel’s abandoned daughter Rosie. Finally, there’s Judge Jack, a kindly old gent up from the city to help search for Nate. Ah, contrivance! Ethan will eventually wind up on Jack’s docket, charged with criminal negligence, but Jack will treat him leniently, for he empathizes with Ethan; the judge has made his own mistakes in raising his son Marty, now an addict and a thief.
An ineffectual tearjerker—and a disappointment after Schwartz’s promising debut (Jumping the Green, 1999).