In her debut novel, Ames presents an account of the ordeal faced by a mother accused of assault and child endangerment.
Sarah Bennett has a hectic middle-class life with her husband, James; three children ages 12, 8, and 6; and a stressful job as director of a homeless shelter. She and her husband struggle to argue less with each other and with their children. Soon after an unpleasant run-in with two local police officers, during which she refuses them entry to search for evidence of criminal activity by a shelter resident, she stands accused of several crimes related to a minor driving incident involving her 8-year-old daughter. Meredith refuses to go into ballet class, and, frustrated by her daughter’s obstinacy, Sarah leaves Meredith in front of the school, locks the car doors, and slowly drives away. Meredith hangs onto the slider door handle of the van, running along behind for a few seconds, unhurt but upset. Sarah sends her husband back to check on Meredith but an observer has already reported his version of the incident to the police. This report, combined with the unreliable testimony of a terrified 8-year-old, a police force already antagonistic to Sarah, and a legal structure skewed in favor of the prosecutors, sends the Bennett family into a maelstrom. The story is told from several points of view: Sarah, James, 12-year-old Nick, a police officer, and the state’s attorney. The most enthralling chapters are those of Sarah and her son. The judge’s “no contact” order forces Sarah to move out of the family home and not see or speak to Meredith. This becomes agonizing for her and the other children. The author conveys the son’s distress in small but effective examples. During the first Christmas without his mother, Nick notices the “mistakes”: “First, the Santa presents are wrapped in the same wrapping paper the family presents are wrapped in. Second, there are price tags on some of the stuff in the stockings.” Less convincing are the other narrators, who are much less vivid. In an author’s note, Ames discloses that the story is largely autobiographical. The book’s title belies its powerful impact.
A well-paced, compelling story of minor events and ordinary lives spiraling out of control.