Debut author Kauffman examines the lives of working-class characters connected to Buffalo, New York, in a novel of loosely linked stories.
A father attempts to be a good parent when his daughter visits for the summer but gets an ultimatum from his girlfriend: either the kid goes or she does. He chooses the girlfriend, and the ramifications of this decision echo through the book in subtle ways. The novel is composed of short, storylike chapters, many told from the points of view of minor characters. We see the girl, Tracy, first through the eyes of her father's resentful girlfriend and later the girlfriend of a cousin. But gradually the connections deepen. As we follow Tracy from childhood to adulthood, she searches for love and purpose. Kauffman's compassion for her lonely characters is evident. At an ill-fated holiday gathering, Tracy watches her cousin Shelly "looking, as usual, like she was a woman who really knew how the world worked." Another divorced father, unsure of his ability to parent, feels "a private, throbbing panic" when his son throws his arms around him at the Shamu show at Sea World. Later he finds himself comforted by a chirping cricket and a loaf of banana bread as he tries to "become a man who finally deserved the things he once had." A character takes his ancient, sedated cat, Monkey, for a ride on a Ferris wheel. As he explains at the vet's, he asked for a monkey when he was 10, but "I got what I got." "We all get what we get, don't we?" the woman said. "No matter what we ask for." One misstep is the mysterious Native Americans who appear periodically, laconic and stoic, to deliver some of the novel's best lines. Tracy's father reveals he's dying of cancer to a stranger who tells him that death could be "just another place you've never been."
In this debut novel, characters affected by "the cruelty of carelessness" nonetheless make the best of what they get.