In Long’s debut novel, a terminally ill man tries to reconcile with his past.
New Yorker Neal Landrum has a routine checkup that reveals a serious medical condition, and he’s told that he only has a few months left to live. Stunned, he decides to dedicate his remaining days to tracking down an old college girlfriend, Joan Elroy. After finding someone with her name in New Mexico, Neal lies to his wife, buys a car, and hits the road. As he makes his way southwest, his thoughts turn to his past, starting with the claustrophobic environment in which he grew up. He was raised by devoutly religious parents who kept him and his brother, Joe, isolated from the rest of their town, and he only managed to escape after meeting Joan, the daughter of a new high school teacher. He became close with her and her father, eventually dating her and attending the same college as she did. But when her father had a stroke, Joan left school to care for him. Neal cruelly turned his back on her and ended up marrying a rich, popular young woman named Susan Murphy and entering her family’s business. When present-day Neal eventually arrives in New Mexico, he’s disappointed that the woman he finds isn’t his old lover, but a young artist. He quickly realizes, however, that there’s more to her than meets the eye. There are some plot points that are sure to raise readers’ eyebrows; in particular, a “deal” struck between two key characters is so unbelievable that it borders on silly. On the whole, however, this novel takes a bold look at the life of a dying man. Neal is far from perfect, and the novel is unflinching in its commitment to showing him as a three-dimensional human being, with all of his flaws on full display. Even though he’s dying, the plot never handles him with kid gloves, and his past is revealed to be far more complicated than his memories suggest. The story also offers a cast of supporting characters with unexpected depth.
A melancholy reflection on one man’s life, highlighted by complex characterization.