In Cohen’s novel, a father’s death impacts the family he left behind.
Readers first see Frank Kovacek through the eyes of his youngest daughter, Jenny. To her, Frank is a superhero, indestructible and perfect, though there are hints that their home life is far from domestic bliss. His oldest daughter, Margot, expands on that trouble in the second chapter, which shows both Frank’s deep love for his children and his capacity to dream his problems away. The story is told in chapters devoted to a specific character’s point of view—Margot, Jenny and Frank’s wife, Ruth, in first person, and his young son, Toby, in third person; another character, the assistant director of a funeral home, gets a single chapter in his third-person point of view. Initially, going from first to third person is jarring, but it turns out to be a smart choice on Cohen’s part, bringing an outsider’s objectivity to a central event in the story while planting the seed for an emotional twist later on. Frank’s loss affects every character’s choices and actions, placing each of them on a path from which they struggle to break free, with varying degrees of success. Jenny and Toby go through the harshest of traumas following their father’s death, though Margot sees her once-promising future sink almost immediately. At times, however, they fall into archetypes—Jenny being the one who internalizes everything and has her idealism dashed, Toby turning to dangerous carelessness and low-level criminal activity, etc. But Cohen rarely makes easy, obvious choices for his story, which is at turns heartbreaking and funny. He always has a touching or amusing surprise waiting, as when, on a date, Jenny finally takes a step past her fears. Adding to the difficulties is the 1960s cultural tumult in Southern California, which exists just outside the bubble of the family unit, leaving the characters that much more exposed when it bursts.
A rewarding read that captures stark, knotty reality and its living, breathing characters.