As in Flook's first novel (Family Night, 1993), a dark, strong start lapses into weary complacency as the characters' weaknesses prove insurmountable and addictions to drugs, sex, and loss become their guiding lights.
After Willis gets dishonorably discharged from the Navy for pilfering from a supply warehouse, he goes to his stepmother's home in Newport, R.I. While he claims to be returning to care for Rennie, who took him in after his father died when he was 13, she seems more capable of dealing with her fast-approaching death from cancer than Willis, whose resolve to keep up a good front is further eroded by the constant pain in his arm from a carelessly self-inflicted fracture. Rennie, who seems to need his dependency more than his strength, invites Willis to sample her supply of morphine, and he becomes immediately addicted. Enter a neighbor named Holly, transfixed by the goings-on across the street. All three characters battle to escape their demons. Rennie suffers under the mocking title ``Kiss of Death,'' awarded to any woman who's had two husbands die at sea (she even had a third, Willis's father, expire unexpectedly from a heart attack), and fights to prevent her biological son from putting her in a rest home and taking away her seaside house. Willis struggles to come to terms with his mother's death, a freak accident provoked by his father's violence, and searches for anything that will fill his emptiness, turning to meaningless sex and dangerous, shady business deals. Holly tries to start over after her husband leaves her to buy Carvel Ice Cream franchises with his new, rich lover. The three misfits become intimate, and as each works to keep the others afloat, they discover deeper failings and hidden strengths.
Some startling scenes and enchanting writing, but Flook's depiction of feeble psyches and unending despair ultimately anesthetizes the reader.