Having plumbed the moral complexities of his native Mississippi (Safe From The Neighbors, 2010, etc.), Yarbrough takes a risk in moving his focus to a New England town where a middle-aged married couple has relocated from California.
Kristin has a Ph.D. in comparative literature but hasn’t read a serious book in years. Her husband, Cal, who is haunted by his father’s criminality and his own capacity for violence, plays a variety of musical instruments but refuses to call himself a musician. For 15 years, Kristin and Cal have lived together in lukewarm companionability, keeping their secrets from each other, but by 2010, the recession has cost 50-year-old Kristin her administrative job at a prestigious California university and closed down Cal’s high-end construction business. So when a third-tier state college in Massachusetts offers Kristin a job at half her old salary, she and Cal don’t hesitate to move, hoping the change will reactivate their marriage as well as their finances. While Kristin begins work at North Shore State College, Cal starts to renovate the old house they’ve purchased in Montvale, a train ride away from her office. Kristin soon meets a younger, surprisingly literate neighbor, Matt. A Montvale native who works at the counter of a loyal friend’s local deli, Matt lost both his wife and his career after he was caught embezzling from his employer, a Cambridge bookstore, to support his cocaine habit. A broken man, Matt remains dependent on literature; having been dumped by her professorial first husband, Kristin long ago abandoned literature. Their affair is inevitable. Yet Cal’s love for Kristin shows surprising tenacity. There are no villains here, only characters struggling to make sense of their lives and connect, however imperfectly, with others. Even the side plot, about a plagiarism scandal in North Shore State’s history department, slips beyond satirical academia bashing into a complex study of ethical choice.
Eschewing flashy verbal fireworks, Yarbrough has written a deeply intelligent and wildly moving story about the many permutations of love, betrayal and redemption.