Well-written but formulaic debut explores a family’s grief after a tragic accident.
Intellectually engaged, financially blessed, possessed of good values and better luck, the attractive McMartins have never known real heartbreak until, on an otherwise unmemorable morning, 16-year-old Helen sets off to break ties with Bobby, her secret older boyfriend. With four beers in his belly and a gas tank full of sugar (courtesy of a jealous ex-girlfriend), Bobby crashes his motorcycle into the car of reluctant celebrity Harry Harlow, host of a famous game show, Would You Rather? Bobby dies instantly, and Helen is in a coma. Her father Darius, an esoteric English professor with a photographic memory, holds vigil at her beside, refusing to give up hope for her recovery. Mother Sophia, an arts administrator racked with guilt over her blindness to the signs of Helen’s ill-fated romance, becomes obsessed with Bobby, especially after detectives suggest that he had criminal ties. Elder daughter Miranda, a freshman in college, allows herself for the first time to be drawn into a relationship with a man, someone she met on the day of Helen’s accident. Meanwhile, though he was not at fault in the accident, Harry finds that he can’t let go of his guilt. He begins acting erratically, is fired from the game show, divorces his young wife, pursues a tentative friendship with Sophia and launches a bizarre business venture. As it becomes increasingly apparent that Helen will never recover, family members flee to their separate spaces. Miranda follows her man to Alaska’s remote backcountry; Darius insists on moving Helen home to care for her himself; and Sophia, sensing a crumbling marriage, moves to New York City. The final bleak development is anticlimactic, given how many lives have already been irrevocably altered.
Unremarkable, though fans of Ann Packer and Jodi Picoult may appreciate Johnson’s careful foray into post-crisis fiction.