Pelletier’s (Accidents of Providence, 2012) second novel unfolds a complex story in the span of 24 hours—the dreaded yet celebrated anniversary of Henry and Marilyn Plageman’s son Jack’s birth...and death.
Dead 14 years on May 22, 1897, Jack would have been 16 if he had lived. Traditionally, on the morning of May 22, Lucy, Henry’s lover of 10 years, helps him plant new flowers at Jack’s gravesite and then leaves before unsuspecting Marilyn arrives to mourn. This particular day, the normally well-orchestrated schedule collapses, soon to be followed by the tenuous relationships that have been precipitated by grief. Pelletier expertly fills in the back story—introspection and memories mingle smoothly with the present. Henry, Marilyn, and Lucy relate their stories in the second person, a point of view that serves to distance them from their own lives, as if they are not living but merely being observed. Henry once had a life with a warm, loving wife and beloved son...until that sunlit afternoon when Jack was napping and he and Marilyn made love. Marilyn can no longer bear intimacy with Henry. Her life was once filled to the brim with love...until loss and guilt stepped in. Lucy met a broken Henry and fell in love. She thought he might leave Marilyn, not understanding that he was inextricably bound to her...until she saw them together at the cemetery. Blue, Henry and Lucy’s 8-year-old daughter, loves her absentee father deeply, but her impulsive action in the cemetery on this calamitous Saturday brings relationships to a wrenching conclusion. In the end, the half wives may be able to redeem their lives, but it remains to be seen if Henry will stay locked in his own half-life.
Well-crafted characters struggling alone with shared grief furnishes a coursing river on which this intriguing story effortlessly flows. Tough to put down.