A debut novel that offers a heartfelt story of a father’s devotion.
Since the disappearance of his 5-year-old son a year ago, Ben Grant’s life has spun out of control. The despairing father separated from his wife, developed a drinking problem and now spends every moment of his free time looking for new leads in his son’s case. At the same time, he acclimates himself to a new job as property clerk at the Atlanta branch of the U.S. Postal Service’s Mail Recovery Center—formerly known as the Lost Letters Office. Although this symbolism may be a bit heavy-handed, Demarest develops the Mail Recovery Center into a vivid setting full of intriguing characters and details, including Uncle Shem, an urn of long-unclaimed human cremains; Jillian, a harmlessly disgruntled worker who considers Uncle Shem her greatest confidant; and the manically charming Sylvia, Ben’s assistant, friend and romantic interest. Although Sylvia has a difficult past of her own—and a habit of stealing items from the recovery center—she becomes Ben’s only support in his ongoing search for his son, which is reinvigorated by his new access to government databases. But even Sylvia’s kindness can’t keep Ben from being consumed by his obsession, and when he uncovers new information that might pertain to his son’s abduction, he only becomes more unhinged. Demarest writes of Ben’s plight with sensitivity and pathos (“He couldn’t tell anymore how much was the alcohol and how much was sleep deprivation and the numbness that had started to settle over his heart and head”), but she counterbalances the heaviness of the material with the zany staff and goings-on at the recovery center; she also loosely structures the tale around the chapters of the fictional Property Office Manual. This compelling, well-written story is ultimately one of recovery, as Ben tries to accept what he can’t control and get his life back on course.
Engaging, inventive and full of feeling, Demarest’s debut engagingly addresses what we lose when we lose someone we love.