In Williams’ debut novel, two people—a man going through a messy divorce and a suicidal woman—meet and support each other as they both begin recovery from alcoholism.
Kicked out of the house, unable to see his children, accused of horrible crimes and drinking heavily after years of staying dry, writer Renn Allen finds himself drawn to a high bridge where he looks to fall from his troubles. There he meets Suze, a married woman contemplating the same solution. They strike a pact not to jump and seemingly go their separate ways. But Suze can’t stop drinking after an enormous, sordid betrayal by several trusted figures in her life. The pair meet again in Alcoholics Anonymous; as they work through the steps, they start coming to terms with themselves and their pasts. Former journalist Williams structures his story well, with dramatic chapter endings and telling images, such as one of an unhappily married couple: “when they passed one another in the hallway they separated like magnets turned the wrong way.” Readers familiar with the 12 steps of the AA recovery process will find a realistic depiction here. Williams has a sharp reporter’s eye for detail; in gas guzzler–loving Corpus Christi, Texas, the private school parking lot “looked like a Suburban dealership whenever parents assembled for a school function.” Williams also portrays his characters with a journalistic, overly tidy patness: “Renn realized that the only way to fill the void inside him created by his father’s absence was to become the father he had always wanted.” Despite the dramatic events surrounding the characters, there’s not much to them except for a few often-rung notes: Renn’s working-class resentment, Suze’s guilt because she doesn’t love her rich, generous husband. Even their mutual support has shallow roots, since they probably wouldn’t have approached each other on the bridge had they not found each other attractive. It’s a welcome pleasure, though, that Williams ultimately avoids predictably combining their two stories.
The drama of this 12-step recovery story lies too much in sordid events and reportage, and not enough in the observable inner development of its characters.