In Amidon’s sixth novel (Human Capital, 2004, etc.), various story lines converge to yield a small-town melodrama.
Stoneleigh is a picturesque college town in western Massachusetts, but its inhabitants are beset with problems. Strong, decent Edward Inman, owner of a security company, is stuck in a loveless marriage to ambitious Meg, a selectman running for mayor, but he yearns for Kathryn, his old sweetheart. The equally decent Kathryn, abandoned by her flaky husband, is struggling to raise her two sons; 19-year-old Conor has become a sullen stranger. In worse shape is Walt Steckl, widower and electrician, hooked on pills and booze after a work-related accident. Though innocent, he’s had two run-ins with the law, adding tension to his relationship with daughter Mary, a college student who attends the same nonfiction workshop as Angela, who’s had a torrid summer-long affair with their cool professor Stuart (divorced). Amidon’s poorly structured novel is top-heavy with exposition. Where’s it all heading? Oddly enough, to one of the town’s richest men, Doyle Cutler, a colorless creep who’s made a fortune in the debt-consolidation business. Why does the unemployed Conor have a bottle of expensive French wine in his room? The answer is Cutler. Why is Stuart suddenly avoiding Angela? Again, the answer is Cutler. Everything comes to a head when Walt, in a drunken stupor, finds his traumatized daughter curled up on his kitchen floor. She had been at Cutler’s house, along with Conor and Stuart, and left with a damaged shoulder. Was there an attempted rape? Amidon undercuts the suspense by lingering on the pain of his other victims, hapless Walt and deluded Angela, while ignoring Cutler, the prime mover. The other story line—the resumption of Edward and Kathryn’s love affair—is sidelined after a considerable build-up. The violent ending is really no ending since Cutler, astonishingly, is out of the picture.
Amidon’s strength, a gritty realism, is sacrificed to a never-believable morality tale about the power of money to corrupt.