A happy family on vacation in Florida is revealed to be a ticking bomb.
“While his wife, Stacy, is busy with their young son and daughter at the egg-shaped swimming pool adjacent to his mother’s condo, Roger Goldenhar will drive in his rented Toyota to an indoor, air-conditioned shooting range in Pompano Beach where they also happen to sell guns and ammo—a fact he will learn on the Internet the night before he and Stacy and the kids fly out from JFK to Fort Lauderdale.” When a man buys a gun on the first page of a book, trouble is in store. While the narrative of the Goldenhars’ trip to Florida proceeds on its relentless path, their back story is revealed in a parallel narrative, starting with the day they met in a bakery in Cambridge over a dropped credit card, bonding via a shared birthday and a taste for lemon muffins. But actually, they were never the same kind of people. Stacy, 33, is a Harvard-educated social worker still deeply shaken by the recent death of her mother, not quite ready to settle down and start a family of her own. Roger is 42, divorced, a successful real estate developer, as addicted to the “good life” of the title as Stacy is indifferent to it. Nonetheless, she falls in love with him, with his family, and with the two picture-perfect children they have soon after their marriage. Thurm (Today Is Not Your Day, 2015, etc.) has created an extremely lovable character in Stacy, and the reader’s anxiety about her situation mounts as we see everything about her husband that she does not—a little perplexing, since she works professionally with the mentally ill. All the minor characters in the novel are spot-on down to the slogans on their T-shirts (a Thurm trademark), but the book's ultimate success depends on its depiction of Roger. The explanations and triggers for his behavior are put in place one by one, yet somehow he remains a click away from real.
Thurm simultaneously creates and destroys a brightly detailed domestic world in this relentlessly paced, ultimately pitch-dark emotional thriller.