A single father is at professional, familial, and romantic crossroads simultaneously.
Michael Hodge, father to an autistic 7-year-old boy named Jamie, is already stretched thin in his efforts to keep his contracting business afloat and his six-month relationship with Fari, an Iranian-American psychologist, on track. This fragile balance is threatened when his mother, in the early stages of dementia, accidentally burns down her house while she's caring for Jamie and when his estranged wife, Anita, abruptly returns after abandoning their family years earlier. Michael is a former professional surfer whose father drowned; the novel takes its title from The American Practical Navigator and intersperses excerpts from the manual throughout. As a literary device, these excerpts don’t quite succeed in adding an extra dimension to the novel or provoking deeper questions; instead, Michael’s own coming-to-terms with the ocean as he makes a surfboard for his son serves as an interesting internal narrative entirely on its own. In an attempt to offer insight to all of its characters, the novel at times neglects the more intriguing relationships between Michael and both Fari and Anita, as well as Jamie’s relationship with both of his parents. Metcalfe’s experience writing movies and plays is on full display in this novel, as its strongest moments are in its powerful short scenes, which shift frequently to offer insight into multiple characters. Yet at times, especially in the beginning, these short scenes also create a sense of choppiness and detachment. Once the novel has provided more background on Michael, Fari, and Anita, the rhythm begins to work with the connections between the characters, and the novel becomes an engaging read.
Metcalfe's novel is at its best in portraying everyday moments as the parent of an autistic child.