Julia is an artist. She is divorced and her children are grown. The summer that the book opens finds her at the shabby Maine farmhouse on the coast that has been such a touchstone for her ever since she and her ex-husband found it many years before. Her parents, older and failing in small or large ways, are with her and she is struggling to manage her relationship with them when her oldest son grudgingly concedes that he thinks her younger son is quite probably addicted to heroin. As she tries to cope with the despair and denial she is feeling, she must try to also reach her most mercurial child, Jack, before he is so lost to her that he cannot be pulled back. As much as the focus in this novel is on Julia's efforts to save Jack, she must also face truths about herself and who she is as her life spins out of control, slave to her child's addiction.
Robinson uses multiple narrators in an effort to round the story out and to show the effects of addiction on a family as a whole but I enjoyed reading certain characters more than others so the constantly shifting narrator caused me some irritation--serious irritation at times. Jack's narration in particular, while perhaps authentic, was difficult and swampy to read. She's probably drawn precise and real characters in the throes of this situation but I couldn't find much sympathy in me for any of them.
Older son Ben wants to absent himself from the whole situation, angry he's been forced to "out" his brother. Ex-husband Wendell doesn't really want to be bothered or involved. Julia herself prefers to live in denial, searching for a magic bullet. Their quiet desperation and ineffective choices of coping skills are desperate but ultimately uninteresting. Throughout, the narrative felt very slow and heavy going, probably because of the heavy subject matter and the inevitable train-wreck. Robinson really captured the "slowing down of time" that seems to be a mark of heroin addiction but that very drawn-out feeling of being underwater is part of what made this such a difficult read to stay engaged with for me.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.