Rambach offers a debut based on having been the last wife, for a time, of the late writer André Dubus. But, though the events are drawn from real ones, they don't gain the wholeness of a novel, and neither character lifts more than perfunctorily from the page.
Ellie Rifkin is 19 when writer Gerard Babineau—in his 40s, a father, twice divorced—gives a lecture at her college, is drawn to Ellie's looks and manner, enters her bed, takes perverse pleasure in hooking her on cigarettes, before long makes her his third wife. That characters may have a compelling interest in one another doesn't, unfortunately, mean they'll be equally interesting to readers, and, though Ellie's judgment may be pardoned by merit of her great youth, it doesn't mean that Babineau will charm all others with his hyper-manly swagger, bluster, and aggressively plain talk (with Ellie for the first time: "I do believe you momentarily did stir Peter Pecker from his deep slumber"). The dread fact at the heart of the tale, of course, is the car accident that, in reward for simply being a Good Samaritan, cost Babineau (as it did the real Dubus) one leg and most of the other. The accident and Babineau's long and largely failed struggle to recover from it are described with unflagging vividness, yet this very fact serves to pull the novel away from its greater subject and toward its lesser one—away from a portrayal of the man as thinker, intellectual, and artist, and toward him merely as tormented case study. He drinks hard, swears a lot, loves guns, has religious faith, eventually beats Ellie in an act of awful destruction—but of his art, or his dedication to it, or what it was inside the man that made him unique, we're left with nothing to tell us much of anything.
Tragedy in the process of being wrought, with great seriousness, into cartoon and melodrama.