In a fourth outing, Cody (So Far Gone, 1998, etc.), who tends to take his readers down the darker back alleys of the human psyche, explores the mind of a mental patient who may have killed his wife.
In the opening, narrator Earl Madden remembers a spring night when his beloved wife June went on sleeping while he remained awake, plagued by ominously violent fears and fantasies. Earl is aroused from this reverie by a nurse in the mental hospital where he is now incarcerated. It soon becomes clear that Earl doesn’t know how long he’s been in the hospital and is cloudy about the recent part of his life, leading up to his arrival. He is much clearer about the lives of the famous mass killers whose familiar histories he tells without naming names. Earl remembers his own life in fragments: his unhappy childhood, shot with a few glimmers of very early happiness, his borderline abuse at the hands of a neighbor, his father’s breakdown, his mother’s decline and murder. His older brother disappeared into the army, but Earl’s intelligence and good behavior got him to college, graduate school, and then a teaching job at a Boston area Catholic boys’ school, where he met June. A meticulously drawn scene of their early courtship—he sits in her kitchen while she bakes bread—is worth the price of the book, searingly painful in its hopefulness. Back in the present, Earl’s psychiatrist keeps reminding Earl that June is gone and asking him to give his version of her disappearance. In each meeting, Earl describes a different way he murdered her, by knife, by gun, by his bare hands. Finally, he begins to remember what really happened: June’s less dramatic but no less tragic departure from his life.
Not every reader will want to explore this depressing terrain, but Cody writes with an elegance and dignity that deserve recognition.