Editor (The Barbie Chronicles, 1999) and second-novelist (The Four Temperaments, 2002) McDonough follows a tidy, deeply predictable story about the death of a Brooklyn couple’s young daughter.
The freak car accident that killed seven-year-old Dahlia has left a deep fissure between Rick Wechsler, a successful Brooklyn podiatrist who was driving the car at the time of the accident, and wife Naomi, a teacher who now volunteers at the hospital where Dahlia was taken DOA. “There were so many ways in which she had failed Rick these days,” Naomi admits, and indeed, he spends a good deal of time trolling porn sites before succumbing to the needy advances of his single-mom office manager, Lillian. While at work at the hospital, however, Naomi has been spending some quality time with the chief of pediatrics, Michael McBride, a disheveled lapsed Catholic with a wife and two daughters of his own; when Rick impulsively confesses his dalliance, Naomi throws him out and finds field-leveling comfort with Michael. McDonough advances her carefully calibrated plot in alternating viewpoints, including that of Naomi’s mother Estelle, a dotty old lady of the Barbara Stanwyck era who tries to escape from her Riverdale nursing home because she can’t comprehend Dahlia’s death. The prose is unmemorable and bland. In McDonough’s hands, the reader is always safe and reassured, because there is no chance of deviation from her set-in-stone plot and no way the characters can evolve organically. They are as familiar as generic household products, from strong, selfless, sexless Naomi and randy Rick, entitled but not too smart, to the mismatched but well-intentioned Michael, who runs to church to confess, and the fetching, vaguely ethnic Lillian with her cheap taste in clothes and furniture. Even the accidents and coincidences are strenuously plotted, and a memory of poor Dahlia seems an afterthought.
A novel of leaden purpose rather than spirit.