A housepainter with Asperger’s syndrome and a pregnant, unmarried radio host meet under false pretenses, have sex, and then are separated for nearly the duration of this unsparing yet cautiously hopeful story examining love’s many varieties.
From such seemingly unpromising materials, Livesey (Eva Moves the Furniture, 2001, etc.) constructs another of her reflective but surprisingly gripping tales about odd people in peculiar circumstances that nonetheless reveal a great deal about human nature. Zeke Cafarelli thinks Verona MacIntyre is the niece of the couple whose London house he is painting—naturally enough, since she tells him so, and Zeke can barely grasp conventional social interactions, let alone something as complicated as a person telling a lie. In fact, Verona extracted Zeke’s name from a mutual friend (“people were always getting themselves out of sticky situations by offering his services,” he thinks ruefully) because she needs a place to hide after being menaced by two men trying to collect a bad debt from her ne’er-do-well younger brother Henry, whose increasingly erratic (but always self-protective) actions soon pluck his sister from Zeke’s bed and send her off to Boston. Meanwhile, Zeke’s father has a heart attack, his mother confesses she’s having an affair, and they both want him to help out in the family grocery store. Instead, he follows Verona to Boston, sure that “after less than twenty-four hours he knew Verona better than anyone.” She has the same mysterious sense of connection, although every one of the plot developments—and they are many and twisty, though always credible—suggest that no one ever really knows anyone else. From Zeke’s preoccupied parents to Verona’s increasingly hateful brother, each character has compelling reasons for actions that range from merely selfish to malignantly self-serving, yet the tone here is never bitter. Rather, the author seems gently amused by her creatures’ follies and tenderly protective of Zeke and Verona, who deserve some good luck in love even though both are more than a little nutty.
Like all Livesey’s novels: notable for her penetrating knowledge of the human heart coupled with respect for its essential mysteries, both explored in elegant, evocative prose.