A wife reconsiders leaving her stagnant marriage when her husband suffers a stroke, and the family must band together despite long-harbored resentments.
It’s been 30 years since the Wards’ beloved son died in a car crash, but the grief has remained. Their communication stunted, their sex life gone, Lizzy Ward and her husband, Andrew, a retired professor, have whittled their marriage down to merely orbiting around each other. Even their daughter, Jane, now married with three kids and a busy schedule, notices her mother’s unhappiness. On the night Billy died, Andrew had given him permission to go out, despite a terrible storm and Lizzy’s premonition that something would happen; for this, Lizzy has never forgiven him. She confides in Ouisie, her best friend from church, about wanting to leave the painful marriage. But while working on his historical novel about the Wards’ ancestors, Andrew suffers a severe stroke. Lizzy then can’t imagine leaving him alone in the hospital, let alone walking out on their marriage. Andrew’s brother and sister are summoned, straining their already distant relationship as a family. There are often long flashbacks to Andrew’s childhood, showcasing his mean brother and kid sister. He begins to recover from the stroke, although his verbal dyspraxia has him spitting curse words and bumbling names. Lizzy, as his caretaker, warms to him again, and their relationship reblooms. Andrew returns to his novel, which is presented as a story within a story. He suffers another stroke, and Lizzy, Jane and others are prompted to bring forgiveness to the forefront of their family. From the opening chapters, the axis of the novel seems to be the loss of their son, but as the novel goes on, it seems that other experiences are influencing the characters. Readers never quite get to the heart of what ailed Andrew before his strokes; despite vivid flashbacks to his brother’s cruelty, it’s unclear why they’re part of the novel. Secondary characters play well alongside Lizzy and Andrew, evident in Jane’s flirtatious banter with her husband and Ouisie’s role as the giggling friend. There’s a pleasing amount of healthy talk about sex, although jokes of a sexual nature, and Andrew’s sailor mouth, are sometimes stale comic relief. Yet the colorful dialogue keeps the story moving, sidetracked occasionally by the extensive novel-within-a-novel and many childhood flashbacks. Forgiveness comes in moments sentimental but tender, and even Andrew’s poststroke syntax has a chance to shine.
Compared with other grieving families in literature, the Wards don’t plumb the depths of their emotions, but they nevertheless provide a warm portrait of a family coming together to forgive.