This is another book I've read recently that does not have much of a narrative arc; each character tells us his story and in this case we get to know an extended, but small family from the viewpoint of each character. I'm thinking of Five Bells and Seven Types of Ambiguity; humm…why doesn't the title of this book begin with a number?
I heard the author speak on a panel at the Charlottesville Festival of the Book. He is a poet, has taught at the University of Vermont and now at Hollins University, and his poems and short stories have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and more.
The characters lead largely conventional and careful lives; we begin with the shocking discovery by his wife that Horace, the former provost of the University of Vermont, has a stash of pornographic videos. We learn much later that these were prescribed for him by his best friend, but he found himself unable to watch them, and apparently forgot about them. This is about as wild as things get with these dear people.
There's Bill, Horace's son-in-law, a man of the great phrase. His endearments for his daughter Eve include "Little Miss Eyebrows," but my favorite is Bill's description of Horace: "Horace's feathers are slicked down so tight it'd take a lightning bolt up his butt to make him stop waltzing." Bill is an entrepreneur and owns property and houses all over town which causes him to drive around in a truck with a cell phone or two at the ready so he can buy, sell, rent, or fix up properties. Hannah, his wife, believes he is random in his business dealings and that one day they will be jailed by the IRS. Later we hear from Bill that though he appears random, it's just that he sees a bigger picture.
Though we hear of endearing connections among all the various parties, each expresses their essential feeling of being separate from others. Horace says, "I wanted to be close to people. Especially in the family. I really did. But I couldn't manage it." And Bill understands that throughout his life he "has turned away from affection, generosity, sweetness, love, understanding, all those emotions that he needs from other people — well mostly, from Hannah and Eve — and that they were willing — sometimes eager — to extend to him." Eve, telling about her connection with her husband, says, "I had in mind to tell him everything. Eventually. And maybe the eventually was the hitch, because there were some things — maybe a fair number of things — that I kept saving to tell him when I was ready for him to know them.
For all their restraint, or perhaps because of it, I did come to love each of these people. I look forward to reading more of David Huddle's books.