Jones’ somber first novel is the story of a man whose alcoholism weighs on his own life and the lives of his family, particularly his teenage son.
Working as an electrician, Wayne Reed was knocked off a ladder by a live wire—an 18-foot drop that left him with a mangled foot. While his wife, Emily, is stationed in Guam with the Navy, Wayne largely ignores his 15-year-old son, Charles, and invests the family’s meager finances in an excess of booze. Not much changes when Emily returns, until the tire company, whose negligence resulted in Wayne’s injury, avoids further legal troubles by offering the Reeds nearly $1.7 million. Wayne talks Emily into moving to an apple orchard, where they can live and run the business. But Wayne—still hung up on Cassandra, with whom he had an affair years ago—has no plans on saving his family. Meanwhile, Charles, an intelligent young man and accomplished runner, joins the high school track team, but his father’s continued drinking threatens to squander any hope of happiness for the Reed family. Jones’ bleak novel is almost completely devoid of comedic or lighthearted moments. But it’s also engrossing. Wayne’s behavior is self-obsessive, and seemingly everything he does, from reuniting with Cassandra to spending much of his time at a bar, adversely affects everyone he knows. Split into four parts, the book mostly covers about two years in the early 1990s, but the most illuminating section is Part 2, a flashback to several months between 1986 and 1987, when Wayne’s assignment for the Army Reserves was more an extended affair with Cassandra. It’s a comprehensive display of his disinterest in marriage as well as the physical and emotional mistreatment of Charles; for instance, Wayne insists he run a 10K so the father can slyly introduce his son to his mistress. The latter half of the novel devotes perhaps too much to Wayne, who does little more than drink while boasting about his Porsche and fruitlessly attempting to repair his relationship with Cassandra. Charles, on the other hand, gradually turns into the more compelling of the two; he begins his own downward spiral when his anger surfaces, thanks in part to an incident that puts him in the hospital and sidelines his running. From there, a disturbing concept arises: Charles may someday become the same man he fears and despises.
A gloomy, sometimes-alarming tale of alcoholism, one that questions whether a drunk can blame the drink or his own wickedness.