Mullins (The Rug Merchant, 2006) examines a family that has never recovered from a grievous blow it suffered in 1982.
Back then, seven-year-old Oliver and his older sister Mary were eagerly awaiting the baby boy their parents had adopted when their father, a pathologist, suddenly died and their sorrow-stricken mother decided not to go through with the adoption. She took up with the bland, steady lawyer-next-door, dubbed by the children “Mr. Nice Guy,” and they built a new life just a few feet away from the old one and its lingering ghosts. Now it’s 2003, and the obsessive Oliver—his death-fixation reflected in his business making memorial videos commissioned by the bereaved—believes he’s located the long-lost would-be brother. While stalking the young man at his job as a grocery bagger, Oliver encounters and is smitten by free-spirited Miranda, a photographer whose current project involves choosing a person at random from the phone book, writing the person a “Dear Stranger” letter, and asking him or her to turn on the interior lights at home for an hour on a particular evening, an hour during which Miranda will be set up outside to record a candid shot of whatever the person is doing. Miranda and Oliver fall for each other, and her artistic and his personal quest intersect in credulity-straining ways. Oliver’s approach to the lost brother goes terribly wrong, with an aftermath that devastates the family again and brings even distant Mary back home to help. That Mary’s method of handling her grief has been literally to rise above it all—she’s a vain and emotionally chilly flight attendant—says something about the author’s notion of artfulness.
Strained and stagy.