A complex psychological tale examines grief and unlikely redemption.
In his debut novel, Salamon charts
the slow and often torturous paths taken by his two main characters through the
traumatic events of their lives as their arcs gradually converge. Margaret
lives in a small town outside of Madison, Wisconsin, and we watch as her young
life is marked by tragedies, including a hunting trip with her father that goes
horribly wrong and the deftly orchestrated scene where she walks into her home
seconds after her mother’s botched suicide attempt. Alternating with these
episodes told from Margaret’s point of view are scenes from the perspective of
Thomas Ackerman, a successful California doctor who finds his life derailed
when his beloved wife is diagnosed with inoperable cancer and quickly dies.
Margaret is seeking desperately to find a way out of the life she’s enduring.
Thomas (the better-realized of the two characters throughout the book’s first
half) simply checks out of his own life, becoming so paralyzed with grief that
his son hires a preternaturally competent caretaker named Stephen (who “looked
like an accountant with a killer weekend golf game”) to take care of the household.
Shattered, sleep-deprived Thomas shambles through his days as a kind of
emotional zombie, and although he reflects that “tragedy can pull a family
together or push them apart,” his own family life seems every bit as poised on
the edge of obliteration as Margaret’s, whose sense of isolation only deepens
when she becomes a single mother. Salamon displays remarkably tight control
over his complicated plot, often enlivening his strong narration with memorable
descriptions (to dazed Thomas, a couple of nurses glimpsed at the hospital
“seemed impossibly young, as if they were continuing a game of pretend they’d
started at home”). The book’s parallel stories of wounded souls converge when
Thomas’ son begins to fall in love with Margaret’s daughter, at which point the
drama intriguingly multiplies. Fans of the sharp-edged, character-driven novels
of Carol Cassella and Chris Bohjalian will find here a promising new author to
An ambitious, insightful novel about two damaged
people struggling to overcome their pasts.