In this debut novel, an alienated widower escapes from a retirement village to reclaim his independence in a Chesapeake Bay cabin, only to find that human connection is not so easy to shake off.
Champs Noland was never enthusiastic about making a new home in the retirement community of Egret’s Pond, but when his beloved wife, Pat, dies shortly after their move, he becomes furious and disoriented. Refusing to accept lifelong incarceration in what he calls the “expirement home” at “Regret’s Pond,” and rejecting his children’s well-meaning attempts to reconcile him to a life of sterile safety, he runs away to the family’s old fishing cabin on the tidewaters of the Sassafras River. But even there, he finds disturbing signs of change and loss. His daughter has spruced up the place in hopes of renting it to summer tourists; his boat has been sent to the junkyard; and the rustic, mismatched sanctuary of his youth is unrecognizable. He sets up housekeeping in a tent on the lawn, resisting all attempts by his daughter and two sons to dislodge him. Slowly and unwillingly, Champs begins to accumulate links. Josanne and Larry, his long-time neighbors, poke into his life with annoying concern; his ne’er-do-well son, Jeffrey, comes to live in the cabin, along with a scruffy spaniel named Millie; and Champs’ other kids and grandchildren intrude, bringing a chaotic mix of problems and love. In this soup of solitude and family, Champs begins to review his regrets and gradually comes to see that curmudgeonly isolation may not be his only choice. In a narrative as tender and mordant as Champs himself, Heald has created both an exploration of aging and a tribute to a lost way of life, as gentrification threatens the working-class roots of the Chesapeake Bay tidewaters. Though the numerous loose ends may seem too neatly tied up at the end, Champs makes a believable and satisfying transition from an unlikable and obstinately self-centered old man to a thoughtful figure examining his family relationships. The bay itself comes alive through the eyes of an old fisherman.
In this engrossing family tale, an aging man finds new chapters to explore in the book of his life.