Ison’s second novel (A Child Out of Alcatraz, 1997) is a bit of a letdown—as vague and drawn out as the breakup it describes.
Al and Isabel are at it again, splitting-up, complaining to friends, assuring everyone that this time they’re really going through with it. But after only a few days on his brother’s couch, Al is back in Isabel’s gleaming apartment; however, this time the two have a plan. Unable to let go just yet, they decide to write a list of things they always meant to do together. After checking off all the items on the list, they plan to part with a sense of amicable closure. Though the idea begins well enough, with dinner on the Santa Monica Pier and a romantic evening on the roof of a hotel, soon the innocuous list becomes an orchestrated excuse for petty revenge. The two like each other well enough, have had a companionable few years together, a healthy sex life, so why split, and why the animosity? Isabel, a med student at UCLA, wants more than Al, an indie-film director who now prefers watching movies to making them. Though the two love each other, Isabel can’t imagine him at future cocktail parties, and unfortunately (hence all the reconciliations) can’t imagine her life without him. And though Ison should be praised for not turning this into the kind of romance in which the two see that all those silly differences of ambition don’t mean anything in the face of true love, the lovers appear so indifferent and disconnected that their staying or parting would seem to make little difference. Soon they are forcing each other into situations designed for discomfort, and not long after that, “accidents” start happening. When they finish the list, they decide to add more items, prolonging what is becoming a simple means to hurt the other and themselves. Though some psychological depth could be gleaned from a relationship so dependent on inertia and suffering, neither Al nor Isabel are compelling enough to make their slow descent into misery worth the bumpy ride.
Ison’s fine writing is lost in this tale of relationship hell.