In Brown’s debut novel, a talented Canadian hockey player charts his own path through adulthood and faces turmoil within his family.
The story follows Jack McKenna from his childhood as a hockey prodigy in British Columbia through a failed marriage, a drinking problem, and recovery in middle age. After high school, Jack quits hockey, despite his family’s long connection to the game, and heads off to McGill University in Montréal, hoping for a career that will make the world a better place. While there, he falls in love with Morgan “Marbry” Wellington, the daughter of a local, old-money family, and a surprise pregnancy leads them to get married. They move to Washington state, where Jack begins working for the Department of Corrections, and Marbry gradually grows more secretive and distant until her misdeeds break the family apart. Jack fights for full custody of their children while also grappling with alcohol abuse, eventually finding redemption by renewing his early idealism and understanding how deeply the Wellington family’s problems have affected his own. Jack is an engaging protagonist, well-meaning but often at the mercy of more determined actors, and Brown gives him a satisfying arc that leads to maturity and wisdom. Although hockey serves as one of the book’s core motifs, nonfans will have no trouble following the scenes on the ice, and non-Canadians will find it equally easy to sort out the cultural references. The prose, however, is uneven, with frequently overwrought and awkward phrasing: “The raw energy of the socialization of his vast client base enabled Jack to usurp the upheaval that at times he would deny the very existence of.” There’s also a noticeable tendency toward Tom Swift–style dialogue tags (“Jack respectfully replied”; “Jack sheepishly commented”; “Tom, who steadfastly stuttered”). Still, despite these flaws, Brown delivers a mostly satisfying depiction of a good man who makes mistakes and overcomes them.
An unevenly written novel about family, morality, and identity.