The unconscious is a minefield, and psychiatrist Charlie Weir spends his days treading lightly through the psychic trauma of Vietnam War vets in the 1970s, men who have returned to a world become all but unrecognizable.
Most victims of PTSD, Charlie’s patients are severely damaged, meeting regularly in support of one another to give voice to the nightmares that haunt them, rugged, tough guys who cannot find their way home from what they have witnessed in war and what they have become.
Charlie is drawn to a helping profession because of his own damage, hoping that in healing others he may heal himself. Family memories tainted by dysfunction and unhappiness, Charlie could not save his mother from a tormented and angry existence.
Profoundly depressed, Charlie’s mother becomes more reclusive when her husband leaves her for another woman, a bitter woman spending long afternoons in the vacant slumber of an alcoholic haze, ignoring her sons who tiptoe around a mother trapped in her own sad drama.
Older by three years, Walt becomes a successful artist, the source of his mother’s pride. Charlie turns to the role of healer, fixer - as Mrs. Weir puts it, “always interfering.” An unappreciative harridan, this woman offers no respite or comfort to her younger son, only misery until the day she dies.
Through one of his most difficult cases, Danny, Charlie meets Agnes, whom he marries. They have a daughter, Cassie. The couple tries to offer Danny a safe haven, builds their marriage around the care of this broken man, but even the marriage cannot survive the devastation of Danny’s complexities.
His mother’s death awakens Charlie’s personal psychic trauma, a dark shadow that leaves him defenseless and overwhelmed. Frantically navigating the dread that has surfaced, Charlie turns for comfort to Agnes and to a compulsive, seductive woman, Nora Chiara, a friend of Walt’s.
Still, as Charlie knows all too well, secrets are hidden in the past, that recurring sense of dread signaling not imminent catastrophe but the presence of a repressed memory. Such problems are his life’s work, and Charlie must finally confront his own past to find relief, pushed to the edge of despair before demanding a final accounting of Walt and an errant father.
Driven by his compulsion to help others, Charlie cannot escape his appointment with destiny, his only hope for returning to a normal life unfettered by the secret shame and fears of childhood trauma. This novel is as haunting and fascinating as any true crime story, in that the victim of this outrage is an innocent child.