A religious studies professor wracked by profound grief seeks answers at the center of the world.
Egerton (This Word Now, 2016, etc.) visits bottomless tragedy upon his protagonist in this descent into one man’s personal hell. Oliver Bonds is reduced to living in a shed behind a beauty parlor in Austin, Texas. Slowly but elegantly, he reveals the circumstances of his toddler son Miles’ sudden death three years earlier. We learn that Miles died while Oliver was having a moment of temptation with a student, Ashley Briggers, now his counselor at the local homeless shelter. Oliver's trouble is multiplied when he's charged with his son's murder. His wife, Carrie, pregnant with a second son, sticks with him until his indiscretion is revealed during the trial. Now Oliver watches his son Archer at day care, a child who doesn't even know he exists. “Jesus, oh Jesus, I believed—as I had been taught by every film, every song, every Easter sermon—that love could conquer all,” Oliver tells us. “That love could survive all. It is not true.” Yet Egerton breaks up the awfulness of it all by surrounding Oliver with a colorful cast of characters. The most oddball is Lyle Burnside, a vagabond con artist and member of the local Hollow Earth Society, an organization planning an expedition to the North Pole to find the fabled entrance to the Earth’s core. “Manuel told me I could go mad or go God,” Oliver explains. “But there’s another option. I’ll carry my complaints to the center of the world and ask why the world is the way the world is.” Oliver also visits Martin, a terminally ill patient he was helping with hospice care prior to his son’s death. Martin is living with a violent pimp named Sam and a prostitute named Laika, who may not be what she seems. There is murder here, and forgiveness, and ultimately a redemption that doesn't necessarily equal resolution.
A portrait of heartbreak and loss of faith so wretched it may leave readers with raw nerves.