Family-damage specialist Greenwood (Two Rivers, 2009, etc.) tackles a really big trauma—coping with a loved one’s death from anorexia.
The Masons are floundering. Successful novelist Sam and his actress-turned-caterer wife Mena have stopped making love and communicate with strained politeness. Their 16-year-old son Finn is into drink, drugs and general misbehavior. In desperation, Sam drives the family to spend the summer at the Vermont lake cottage where they vacationed until Finn and twin sister Franny turned 12. Although the author teases readers for many pages with coy hints about the cause of Franny’s death seven months earlier, it’s obvious early on that the budding ballerina had an eating disorder. In Vermont, the surviving Masons individually deal with their grief and guilt. Sam researches a book on a starvation experiment and tries an herbal remedy for his lack of sex drive. Mena cooks platters of her Greek specialties, gets a starring role in a community theater production of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and carries on a flirtation with her costar. Finn is angry and sullen until he begins a friendship with Alice, whose father is in prison for beating her mother. (The sweet 15-year-old reminds Mena of Franny, a plot point that will prove significant.) Finn worries about running out of his herbal crutch until he begins tending a field of marijuana that Alice has stumbled on; the sensory and emotional immediacy in these scenes make them the novel’s most memorable. Meanwhile, troubled Dale Edwards, who has been obsessed with Sam since she read his novels as a teenager, decides to seek him out. (She figures out his location with clues garnered from Franny’s personal website and various Internet searches.) Dale’s eventual arrival, after a road trip during which her mental state unravels, provides the external catalyst for the Masons’ healing.
Maudlin, melodramatic and predictable, but the author knows how to make her characters’ suffering wrench readers’ hearts.