Themes of desertion and migration visibly shape a story of family responsibility.
Guilt or abandonment or both afflict almost every member of the large cast in Silver’s first novel as they explore melancholy feelings about their parents or offspring. Will Burton, more sensitive than his twin brother Ethan—although both suffer with the same eye disease—fears he is to blame when his father, Frank, suddenly walks away from his family without saying goodbye. Will’s mother, Caroline, is forced to sell up and move, with the children, back to her parents, Vincent and Eleanor, in California. Eleanor, beset with dementia, seems rarely burdened with deep feeling anymore, but Vincent, who abandoned her for a while, years ago, fears that the wound he inflicted precipitated the disease. Eleanor’s nurse, Amador, has abandoned his own family in Mexico, in an effort to shoulder his financial responsibilities. He, too, carries a burden of sorrow, since his first son died aged one, after a family outing when Amador impulsively dipped him in a chilly river. Subsequently he dares not love his other children as freely, especially his second son, Rogelio, who has always sensed but misunderstood his father’s prickliness. And there’s another forsaken child, 16-year-old Marlene in Ohio, Frank’s love child who, after a sudden, fleeting encounter with him, decides to trek to California, thinking to find him there. Rogelio has also run away from home, eventually appearing in Amador’s trailer, thin and desperate. Amador, who had started an affair with Caroline, realizes he must reunite his family and curtail his emotional absence. Marlene’s arrival surprises no one and engenders kinship with her half-brothers. She understands her father will always elude her, but has found something else. Caroline chooses to share the burden of her mother with her father. Silver (stories: Babe in Paradise, 2001) writes deftly but her overdeterminism squeezes the life out of her characters.
Heavy on the self-reproach, this questing first novel is all but defeated by its insistence on the difficult duties of parent and child.