A TRAIL OF HEART'S BLOOD WHEREVER WE GO
Olmstead returns to rural New England (territory familiar from his 88 Soft Water) for his second novel: a dispiriting mishmash of domestic trivia, male-bonding rituals, and backwoods black comedy. Protagonist Eddie Ryan is the town undertaker in Inverawe, New Hampshire, a warmhearted guy respected by the community and devoted to his wife: (Mary) and kids (Eileen, Little Eddie). The only cloud over their marriage is Eddie's drinking, which began after his father's death; four years later, he still feels the pain. On Christmas Eve, a logger called Cody shows up with the body of his partner, cut in two by a chain saw. Cody wants the body stuffed; Eddie demurs ("there are laws involved here"); Cody cremates his partner in the woods. Oddly enough, the conscientious Eddie does not report the death; by now he has a good rapport with Cody, finding balm in this free spirit, and soon the logger is living in the Ryans' yard. His presence creates some tensions between Eddie and Mary, but they are left unexamined as Olmstead trolls erratically for other material: the death and burial of the town matriarch, the 500-pound Mrs, Huguenot; Cody's edgy reunion with the wife he abandoned way back when; out-of-state fishing and hunting trips for Eddie and Cody. The narrative moves sluggishly between the mundane ("Little Eddie has a persistent case of the shits again") and the melodramatic (the town doctor, a Vietnamese refugee, kills himself after Eddie discovers he has been removing the hearts of dead people and selling them). At the end, Eddie and Mary are still together, though less harmoniously; Cody has moved on, and Mary has gone back to school. Every issue raised here is subsequently evaded; even the climax of a deer-hunt disappears between chapters. Cody, the novel's one potential energy source, is an instantly recognizable type (with a pedigree stretching back to Huck Finn) who yet never becomes an individual. A deeply unsatisfying work.