Robinson (A Perfect Stranger: And Other Stories, 2005, etc.) offers the unrelentingly pessimistic story of a woman coming to grips with her son’s heroin addiction.
Julia, a divorced artist and art professor in Manhattan, has two grown sons: responsible Steven, who has been working as a conservation activist in Seattle but is returning east to attend law school, and his younger brother Jack, an erstwhile musician who has always been the family risk-taker and troublemaker. The novel opens on the glum scene of Julia attempting to entertain her difficult, aging parents at her Maine vacation house. Already tense from trying to be a dutiful daughter despite her resentment toward her rigid father Edward and her impatience with her placid mother Katharine, who is actually losing her memory, Julia falls to pieces when Steven arrives and admits his suspicion that Jack has become a heroin addict. She immediately calls her ex-husband Wendell who goes to Jack’s squalid apartment and drags him to Maine for a family intervention including distraught Edward and clueless Katharine. Before any real conversation can take place, Jack goes into withdrawal. A desperate Wendell calls 911, and Jack is hospitalized. The family now rally around professional interventionist Ralph Carpenter, who arrives shortly before Jack, having escaped from the hospital, is arrested while attempting to rob a drug store. After Julia unwisely puts up her cottage as security that Jack will show up for his trial, he is allowed to enter Ralph’s rehab program in Florida. At first Julia remains in partial denial, unable to grasp how grave Jack’s condition is, but the “hypnotic and dreadful” Ralph gives Julia and readers a full course in the horrors and hopelessness of heroin addiction, so no one is surprised when Jack shoots up and is kicked out of the rehab program Ralph runs. Meanwhile, family dynamics are deeply affected for better and worse until Jack hits the inevitable bottom.
A fictional case study, at once pedantic and riveting.