A novel about secrets, betrayals, and love revolves around a fight for land.
As ex-professor Angus Willis explains, the bit of Northern California coast he calls home is special, with a Mediterranean climate and “one of the richest underwater canyons on Earth.” Or, as a stranger comes to realize, “If you could fall for a place this would be it.” This stranger—who goes by the name of Sam—rents a shack on the Willis property, which the family has held since 1911. They aren’t the only ones there, as a mountain lion has been terrorizing the area recently. And that lion may not be the most dangerous predator around, or so Angus’ niece Lulu thinks. She suspects Sam of coming to kill her uncle on the orders of Angus’ no-good brother, Frank. But Lulu herself has a troubled history that she can’t run from—and a desire to hold this land at all costs. The latest work from playwright and novelist Skinner (The Bells of Moses Henry, 2011, etc.) is somewhat reminiscent of a Tennessee Williams Southern gothic tale, with haunting pasts and fierce ambitions, but transplanted to foggy Northern California. The writing style is lyrical, tending toward the fractured: “He’d be careful with this one. Whether she liked it or not. ‘Every living thing has a mortal enemy.’ ” Some readers may feel this technique becomes occasionally overblown, but the prose helps to delineate the internal lives of the conflicted characters: Sam, dealing with his military history and wondering how much death lies ahead; Angus, with his dementia, contemplating how much more life he can expect; and Lulu, in some ways finding herself suspended between them, between the ghosts in her past and the prospects in her future. The dialogue shows a playwright’s attention to language and helps sweep the reader through this story.
A poetic family drama with mercy and cruelty in high relief.