In Leipciger’s debut, a moody semitragedy set in Western Canada, the lives of a single father, who's never been able to express the love he feels for his children, and his son, who’s made a catastrophic mistake and fears the consequences, circle around each other.
The novel begins with the mistake, a hit-and-run accident. Curtis is driving alone late at night when he hits a girl walking along the road and leaves the scene, not sure if she’s alive or dead. He leaves his job and hides out with a friend. When his father, Tom, stops by, Curtis screws up his courage to say, “I think I killed someone.” But Tom assumes Curtis is referring to a girlfriend’s abortion and goes back to his out-of-town job supervising a crew planting trees. Tom raised Curtis and his younger sister, Erin, after their mother, Elka, ran off shortly after Erin's birth. Tom searched for Elka but couldn't find her, and she died four years later. He has never totally recovered from the loss, and she remains throughout the novel a sad mystery, cherished in memory by Tom and her mother, Bobbie, who distrust each other. Tom, skilled at practical tasks, is clueless about human relationships. Neither his children nor the woman with whom he's romantically involved realize how much he cares for them. While Tom deals with crew problems on and off the job, not to mention an unfortunate dalliance with the planters’ cook, Curtis goes on the run. Ending up on the isolated island where Elka was raised, he bonds with Bobbie, whom he’s never met before. By then his disappearance has made him a suspect, and the police involve a reluctant Tom, who realizes that he ignored Curtis’ cry for help early on.
Written with painfully nuanced care that displays affection for nature and the laconic, working-class characters, the result is not a cheerful read but genuinely moving.