Robert, his wife Natalia, and their little boy Jesse are each aware that Natalia is not long for this world. Natalia’s decision to eschew a second go-round of chemotherapy means she has decided to die naturally, enjoying life as long as her body permits.
That’s not a spoiler. Robert, the husband and first-person narrator of this rather exquisite account, gives his audience the dope, straight off, at the outset. What follow are a series of family-driven, normal daily events through which Robert and Natalia, though mostly Robert, try to impose order on the universal chaos that has invaded their life.
Bring your dictionary. The narrator is a professor of linguistics, and author Randal Eldon Greene fills his story with broad-gauge vocabulary. And that’s not a knock. Let yourself get involved, and you may be pulled in by the linguist’s efforts to use the tools of his craft—words—as aids in his search for answers to his son’s (and his own) questions about why Natalia is dying and where she is going. Words also aid his attempt to give voice to the emotions roiling inside him, even as he plays the role of the even-tempered, professional male holding his crumbling family together.
Greene seems to be saying we need the extensive tools of language to begin comprehending the mysteries that affect us all. Or he may be saying that no combination of letters and words can achieve that which cannot be achieved. That for all their sophisticated talking, the educated and comfortable among us are subject to the same miseries. Their refinement may even heighten the pain.
Two subtexts intertwine with the main narration: the sighting of a Loch Ness-styled water beast in the lake fronting the family’s house and the doings of the mad architect of their home, who constructed secret passageways and hiding places and occasionally enters his creation unannounced. Aside from lending unsettling undertones to something already upsetting, the two threads are pulled along without much development or resolution, as if the world Robert shares with us is made up of jigsaw pieces that never really fit, in spite of the appearance of a whole.
~Stephen Siciliano for IndieReader