As Murphy's sixth book for adults (Signed, Mata Hari, 2007, etc.) gets started, a large-animal veterinarian in rural New England faces various small uncertainties: an iffy economy, weird recurrent lights in the night sky, a marriage in which there are minor flare-ups.
He has unspecified medical issues, too; his "levels" are volatile and worrying, and he resists going to the doctor. Murphy tells the tale mostly through the vet's reports—alternately no-nonsense and taciturn ("Call," "Action," "Result") or expansive and playful ("Who Walked Into the Hospital Room While I Was Moving My Hand Like the Spaceship")—of the calls he receives from animal owners, and the innovative form is perfectly suited to the doctor's voice: calm, cheerful, attentive, reliable, but also naggingly worried and prone to withhold or diminish the sources of his anxieties. One may be tempted at first to see him as a worrywart whose sense of foreboding is exaggerated, maybe an effect of the gathering chill of fall, which augurs another long, cold, mostly idle winter. Then, while he's hunting on his property with his 12-year-old son, the boy is accidentally shot in the shoulder and topples from a stand, lands on his head and lapses into a coma. The vet and his family try gamely to hold things together, but the strain is awful, and everyone in the small community seems to him a suspect. But is this a mystery worth pursuing, or merely a distraction from his real duty? He's never quite sure. Eventually a familiar-looking stranger—whom the vet takes to calling "the spaceman"—arrives in a whirring electric car and asks a favor that will have enormous implications for the entire family. Murphy is a subtle, psychologically perceptive writer, and the book has a wry humor that's laconic and surreal and shot through with the tender mysteries of family life.
A marvelous book: sweet and poignant without ever succumbing to easy sentiment, formally inventive and dexterous without ever seeming showy. A triumph.