In Wilke’s second novel (After The Sucker Punch: A Novel, 2014, etc.), 33-year-old photographer Dan McDowell’s fiancee kicks him out for an old transgression.
Dan and Jane have already set their wedding date when he admits he slept with an ex-girlfriend after he was already seeing Jane. She’s furious, but he doesn’t see the big deal—soon enough, though, he’s occupying a friend’s spare room and mulling over his sister’s suggestion that he and Jane just aren’t “soul mates.” On the other hand, Dan’s father, Jim, tells him to play the hand you’re dealt—“end of story.” Caught between cynicism and idealism, Dan finds inspiration in an old manuscript of his father’s—the story of his meeting beautiful Barbara on the beach 50 years ago only to discover that she was engaged to another. Is this what killed his father’s belief in love? When Jim has a stroke, Dan interprets his repeated cries of “cah...baaa...baaa” as “call Barbara.” Impulsively, he decides to drive to Oakland and track down his father’s lost love, armed only with her first name, a couple of snapshots, and an ancient phone number. While he investigates, he stumbles into an infatuation with gorgeous 23-year-old Fiona, and he starts to wonder whether there’s something to this soul mate thing after all. Wilke is a skilled writer, able to plausibly inhabit Dan’s young male perspective—but for some, this strength may also be a weakness. Dan is a man-child in the modern mode: immature, aimless, self-absorbed, thoughtlessly leaving his sister and mother to deal with the stress of Jim’s illness while he looks up Barbara and dallies with Fiona (a figure of pure wish fulfillment if there ever was one). While he eventually makes some grown-up decisions, they may come too late to satisfy readers glutted with similar finally-coming-of-age tales.
A well-written, engaging, sometimes-frustrating tale of reaching adulthood a little late.