In poet Yakich’s fiction debut, a young widower returns with his toddler son, Owen, to his childhood hometown outside Chicago for a 20th high-school reunion.
The author employs a lively, witty second-person voice to tell the story of this never-named young man thrust suddenly into grief, guilt (his wife has died of anaphylactic shock after eating a cashew that was lurking in takeout food he brought home) and new and frightening responsibilities. He leaves New Orleans, where he teaches high school online (a perfect indicator of his intriguing mix of engagement with the world and isolation from it), for what he hopes will be a restorative visit to his parents’ place; at the very least there will be free babysitting. His stay at home allows him the chance to regress pleasantly: sleep in his old room, eat comfort food, watch sports, toss the football around the backyard…and the opportunity to attend his reunion and perhaps piece together, from who he was back then, the makings of a new and workable identity, a way of coping with his horrific circumstances. The voice is nimble and sharp, and Yakich bravely resists the siren call of melodrama; the protagonist is an ironist, a loner, a laconic withholder of information, and that serves the narrative well, up to a point. But in the novel’s second half, a series of set pieces that occur at the Casino Night-themed reunion, the emotional thread between the madcap incidents being related (sex on a rooftop, a fight, etc.) and the dead wife and sleeping son frays and thins a little.
A smart, perceptive—if not altogether satisfying—debut by a talented writer.