A slow-moving but thoughtful treatise on making life's trickiest decisions.
The title of Hunter's novel is the first sign of the heaviness to come–-this is no beach read. Indeed, the first page finds Tom Olsen, an English teacher and high-school basketball coach, already suffering the pain of unrequited love; by page three, his unhappy childhood and a deeply regrettable abortion (his fiancÃ©e in college) further illuminate his loneliness and isolation. He finds solace through a fatherly friendship with star basketball player Ben Wendling, a bond that gives Tom the strength to handle his unreturned infatuation with Mary, Ben's (married) mother, and the ensuing emotional fallout when she finds out, then cutting off contact with him. Within this framework, Hunter weaves in debates about modern-day faith and the sometimes Pyrrhic victories that come from leading a life under ethical strictures. The writing is crisp and precise, and the author carefully delineates the mise en scÃ¨ne, relying on physicality to carry the story. The mechanics are straightforward and the discussions about faith–-no matter religious creed–-are credible. Unfortunately, the abrupt plot turns and fuzzy character motivations aren't so credible. Tom falls for Mary the moment he sees her, a puzzling turn of events since Mary's character is sketchy at best–-there's certainly no clue as to why he would covet her so intensely. Tom subsequently discovers that she got married in the first place thanks to Ben’s having been conceived illegitimately, a fact that appalls Tom, who (remember) had his own issue with an unplanned pregnancy. By Tom and Mary’s final meeting, the only feeling any reader will have for Mary is the desire to slap her.
A bit dreary, though Hunter deftly explores the complexities of life and opportunities for redemption.