Martin’s road-trip novel speeds too quickly by the horrible illness and personal trauma that provoke the journey in the first place.
Sarah MacLeish, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and unable to continue practicing medicine, is at loose ends. Everything in her life is changing—her body betrays her at unpredictable moments, her grandmother falls ill and dies and her long-held fear that her husband will have an affair proves true. In the midst of this, Sarah finds a new passion when she joins an archaeological dig near her childhood home in Colorado. Discovering an unsuspected ability to patiently sift through layers of dirt, Sarah uses the hours and days of the dig to reconsider her relationships. Told in the first-person, from Sarah’s perspective, the story unfolds in very short chapters, moving contrapuntally between Sarah’s present and her past, linking the two together as she tries to understand the odd hold that the big sky and dry desert have on the generations of her family. But the unexpected road trip to the Pacific Northwest that Sarah and her best friend take so that Sarah can get some perspective on her life is too much for Martin (Picasso’s War, 2003, etc.) to handle. By the final pages, the book groans under the burden of the parallels between archaeology and personal history it had earlier sketched. Moreover, Sarah’s self-knowledge always comes off as self-pity, even before she falls ill, and her moments of revelation seem drawn from greeting cards.
The attempts at narrative complexity go only so far here—so far before they end up strangling the life out of its characters.