In Law’s debut novel, the mother of a Rhode Island family is stricken with Alzheimer’s.
When Katherine Keene is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, her children and her husband, Bill Norman, are going to have to learn how to deal with it. More importantly, they will have to learn how to deal with each other: Will the family survive together or crash and burn? The main characters are Katherine’s children Laura, the youngest and a relationship therapist, and James, the black sheep alcoholic. These two divvy up the narrating. (The others are Izzy, the big sister, and Robert, the responsible—and judgmental—brother.) Laura is, ironically, divorced; James, a construction worker, is also divorced, with an ex-wife and a son, Jeremiah. And then there is Jonah, Laura’s love interest and strong support. Katherine goes downhill rapidly, but the shock comes when another family member falls ill, which leads Laura to a shattering revelation. At the gathering after the funeral, James gets very drunk, in effect steals Robert’s car, and, crashing it, almost kills his son. The rest of the book details, beautifully, Laura’s confusion and hurt and James’ clawing his way back to sobriety—all while Katherine sinks deeper into incoherence but with moments of startling lucidity. Izzy and Robert do come around, but they have not grown as Laura and James have. Character is everything here. Law is no novice writer, and this is truly an impressive debut. The prose is more often straightforward than lyrical, as befits a hard telling. Laura describes some of her troubled clients as wearing “their problems on their bodies. Bruises, track marks. Scars.” (This just before one of those clients suffers a dramatic fate.) James’ struggle—including a prison stint and a long stretch in rehab—is both heroic and harrowing, an exercise in bated breath, a master class in suspenseful pacing. The destination is satisfying, but the journey will keep readers enthralled.
A trifecta of memorable players, convincing storytelling, and well-honed prose.