Hanson fills a quiet Maine town with colorful characters in this debut literary novel.
Claire has grown up with a sense of both gravity and beauty in her life. On the one hand, she has her mother, who was born in Dresden, Germany, barely survived World War II, and considers every day a caution more than a gift. On the other, her father, a welder and a talented cook who fills their home with haute cuisine beyond the reach of the average nuclear family, is often stubborn and serious in his pride. So Claire stands reserved—dark, even. She sees doom everywhere, only processing it through storytelling. And while her little sister, Grace, has a similar eye for impending disaster, she possesses a more romantic or tragic view of things. But what the story conveys, far more than Claire—at least to her own mind—is that even in the face of tragedy, life continues. It adapts. The members of the community spring into action to address injury, accident, or death but then simply accept and incorporate it into the fabric of their daily lives. And at the same time, the reader sees how this sort of response isn’t good enough to address the longer-standing, more poisonous problems in Claire’s town and family, most particularly her father’s alcoholism. And it’s only now, as Claire’s last summer before high school draws to a close and she finds herself on the cusp of childhood’s end, that real tragedies and intractable problems—and her inability to stop or fix them—begin to weigh on her. Literary fiction often features narrators who are more observers or secondary actors than protagonists, but Claire is that rare character who is both disconnected from and intimately a part of her world. In this way, the novel manages to capture the feelings of helplessness or lack of agency that are so endemic to both childhood and the contemporary American zeitgeist. Unfortunately, the book is very short and might benefit from more time to explore the other characters and the community—details that push the reader to truly inhabit the tale. Nevertheless, it’s a rare, excellent character study and a fantastic read besides.
A portrait of life: poignant, true, and deeply felt.