An oddly satisfying little novel from Hinton (The Arms of God, 2005, etc.), most of which takes place during a single night at a mental institution.
As the story begins, Andy considers those things which made possible her fall into depression: the summer heat, the idle neglect of neighbors, the ominous absence of butterflies. We soon learn that this headlong swing into the abyss is nothing new for Andy—it is a shadow that crosses her life from time to time. But this summer it interferes with her work (she is a research librarian at a Southern university) and she is put on leave. She enters Holly Pines dubious and desperate, and she leaves fully recovered—all thanks to a suicidal prisoner from the local penitentiary. Feeling no better after weeks at the private hospital, Andy decides on her last day to attend chapel service. There she sees for the first time Lathin, a middle-aged African-American with bandages on his arms. She knows he has been moved to the room next to hers, but it comes as a surprise when, in the late evening, he begins talking to her through the air vent. Like priest and confessor separated by a wall, the two exchange confidences and memories so fragile they’ve barely been spoken. He tells her about his mother and her sad, obsessive love for a small cactus, and of his daughter Mary, who mysteriously quit speaking. Andy tells Lathin of her own mother, a waitress wandering from one town and man to another, dreaming of becoming a journalist. Then she tells Lathin of the best time in her life, of the summers she spent on her grandmother’s farm with her beloved cousin PeeDee, of the happiness and the tragedy that shaped Andy’s safe, hollow adult life.
If Hinton’s conclusion is a bit too easy for realism, the emotional journey these two strangers make offers a spiritual truth about the power of confession and forgiveness.