An engaging if overwritten tale about a Manhattan couple changed by a house in the country.
On a Sunday drive, Coltrane and Francie Hart, a severely mismatched pair (she’s a medicated manic-depressive and lapsed poet; he’s a Type-A stock trader) stumble on their dream house. Francie sees it as a place to resume writing poetry; Colt as a weekend spot for entertaining colleagues. On moving day, Francie realizes she’s forgotten her medication and decides to try life without it. Implausibly, the only result is that her judgment is clearer—and she begins to see Colt for the unfeeling monster he is. When Francie discovers the diary of Marly Musgrove, the mid-19th-century woman of the house, she realizes there’s a cemetery in back filled with Musgrove bodies. The result: Colt insists they be removed, angering a next-door neighbor who’s a relative of the buried family. The neighbor kidnaps Colt and forces him to collect the displaced remains from a junkyard. Colt ends up in the hospital, where morphine-induced dreams about his own judgment day lead him to an extreme and unlikely turn. He helps his dying father get out of prison (after spending the last several years pretending he was dead); drops the charges against the neighbor; and apologizes to Francie. Colt is the novel’s weakest link, and, unfortunately, gets the most attention; by the time he turns over a new leaf, he’s already been portrayed as so emotionally detached that it’s difficult to believe (or care about) his new self. Throughout, the Musgroves’ tragedy-laden family history, including a well-paced revelation about a murder in the family, is skillfully woven into the story, and serves as an interesting backdrop to Francie and Colt’s domestic trials. But Kowalski’s eye for detail and character is so much stronger in the Musgrove passages that one wishes the Harts were nearly as believable and compelling.
An uneven fourth outing by Kowalski (The Adventures of Flash Jackson, 2003, etc.), with a unique and nicely textured historical subplot that’s outweighed by the plodding tone and somewhat convoluted main story.