A family reels when an angelic son vanishes, in Carey’s heartfelt fourth novel.
In less capable hands, the story of a family torn apart by a runaway teenager, especially one who returns as a guardian angel, could turn mawkish. Hugh Furey is 15 when he goes missing after attempting to visit his ex-girlfriend in rehab. Hugh had been making the ’80s punk scene in Harvard Square instead of attending high school. His father, a professor of theology at Boston College, suspends work on a groundbreaking angels treatise to oversee the search for Hugh. His wife takes to her bed and turns over housekeeping and childcare for five-year-old Owen to their young daughter Lena. Five years later, Hugh is still missing. Dad has lost his post and is now an editor for a religious publisher. Mom is in med school. A mutual attraction binds Owen, now ten, to classmate Danny, who initiates sexual exploration, happened upon by Danny’s mother. Now a pariah at school due to Danny’s defensive queer-baiting, Owen malingers, missing weeks of fifth grade. Secluded in his room, he indulges his obsession with gravestone rubbings and angels—he recalls being rescued from electrocution by an angelicized Hugh. Tenth-grader Lena, talented, like Hugh, in photography, develops rolls of 35mm film shot by Hugh depicting his Harvard Square friends. She’s determined to follow the trail her parents have seemingly abandoned. Disguising herself as a spiky-haired, combat-booted boy, she goes in search of drug-dealer Lionel, a regular in Hugh’s photos. Enticed into the Ecstasy-popping and pot-smoking world of Sebastian, a conduit to Lionel, she reckons the cost, to Owen and herself, of her parents’ shell-shocked obliviousness. After transgressing the gender divide, virtually channeling Hugh and losing her virginity, Lena thinks she has found the key to Hugh’s disappearance. Alternating between Owen’s and Lena’s points of view, Carey (Love in the Asylum, 2004, etc.) details the Fureys’ disintegration and tentative steps toward rapprochement.
Stark delineation of childhood’s treacherous terrain.