Tucker’s far-fetched, heavily calibrated third novel, after Shout Down the Moon (2004), imagines the splintering effects of trauma on characters destined to meet between Hollywood, N.M. and St. Louis.
First, there is Stephen Spaulding, who lost his wife and young daughter in a car accident near their home in St. Louis. A family doctor at 30, Stephen gives up his practice after the accident to drive a cab and retell the story of the collision to whoever will listen. Next, there is the strangely anachronistic young woman Dorothea, who hires Stephen as a driver to help find her missing brother, Jimmy, hospitalized and homeless after fleeing the isolated New Mexico home of their reclusive father. Dressed, without irony, as if going to a ’50s sock hop, poor Dorothea has never even left her family home, let alone read a newspaper or watched TV. Finally, there is Lucy Dobbins, a singer living in Malibu, whose incredible story involves marriage 27 years before to famous Hollywood director Charles Keenan and his eventual disappearance and abduction of their two young children. The traumatic turning point of Lucy’s fairytale marriage to the much older, controlling Charles was a vicious attack by intruders at their posh mansion that left Lucy near death and her husband thereafter terrified of losing her and the children. All of these curious elements fit together in a creaking, painstakingly constructed plot: Dorothea and Jimmy emerge as the two long-lost children, removed by their paranoid father to isolation in New Mexico in order to shield them from bodily harm—in fact, leaving them with emotional scars too deep to heal. In the course of Stephen’s helping Dorothea care for her brother, a touching, unlikely romance sparks between the two needy trauma victims; discovery of the real identities of her parents is, predictably, imminent. Unfortunately, these toneless characters cannot contend with the busy plot.
A bewildering array of detail offers little to satisfy stylistically.