While I am ambivalent about two of Kaplanís protagonists, her writing is of such magical imagery and striking insight that I am unable to resist this novel. The theme is painful and difficult: the hidden recesses of a personís psyche that create profound emotional shifts. There are also issues of loss, a troubled marriage, the unknowable center of a spouse and the dangerous triangulation of affections.
Owen Brewer has been in limbo since a violent event during which he narrowly escaped death. His wife, Mira Thrasher, is attracted to his rangy good looks, his brokenness (which matches her own), the long-ago loss of both parents in an accident. Inheriting the Thrasher family history and residence in an upscale Providence, Rhode Island, neighborhood, Mira cannot bear to part with her parentsí household of personal belongings, bringing her husband into the hushed world of her entitled childhood.
Everything changes with the arrival of Wilton Deere, a former TV actor of some repute who still graces reruns that fill late night airwaves with nostalgic programming. Wilton moves into the Victorian home next door to Mira and Owen. Anticipating a reconnection with his estranged daughter, Anya, Wilton makes overtures to the young couple, insinuates himself into their lives and seduces Mira onto a path that alienates her from Owen while courting Owen as a friend. Itís safe to say that Mira and Owen fall in love with Wilton, a master of manipulation and guile, but an essentially selfish figure who leeches the marrow from an already vaguely troubled marriage, so badly does he crave what he does not have, thrown away in the pursuit of fame.
Tortured, conscientious Owen is the stand-out personality of the novel, always questioning his own motives, his manhood in times of emergency, his quality as a person and a husband. Mira and Wilton are more difficult to like. Mira is too easily led astray by Wilton, too willing to jeopardize her life with Owen in her discontent, too willing to sacrifice the career she has built for self-gratification, a quick fix. Raised in comfort, surrounded by familiarity, Mira craves an edge, the excitement bred from her sheltered existence by privilege.
In a world obsessed with addiction in all its forms, these people wallow in it: Owen addicted to the self-doubt instilled in a moment of near-death; Mira the mindlessness of a casino with banks of chiming slot machines; Wilton the idea of himself as the father of a daughter at long last, as well as the grandiosity of gesture, the public persona admired by strangers (even if they arenít sure who he is). Caught up in the revolving emotional energy of one anotherís weaknesses, Owen, Mia and Wilton engage in a bizarre and ungainly dance, one meant for two, not three, and destined to falter.
Such excesses in dramatic situations are balanced by moments of perfect harmony: Owenís father, Edward, a quiet, noble man living near a pond who offers his son acceptance and unconditional love; Edwardís new lady, Katherine, a comforting presence, who tethers the renegade emotions of the others, bending them towards family. The prose is exquisite, poetic, honest, imaginative: ďher insomnia twisting around her like an old nightgown.Ē Kaplan takes the fragments of broken lives and glues them back together, makes whole what is carelessly shattered in the brilliant style of an iconic American writer.