A challenging but tenderly rendered novel about the consequences of loss. Intertwined plots focus on the traumatized marriage of Vermont couple Laura and Terry Sheldon who two years earlier had lost their young twin daughters to a flood, and also on the fragile psychological state of 10-year-old Alfred, a young African-American foster child placed in the Sheldon’s home.
The author successfully switches viewpoints from one character to the next, without losing the flow of the story and at the same time giving us an inside view of both the torment and redemption inherent in change. Alfred is tentatively happy in his new home, but fearful that—like all the other foster homes—it won’t last. He is a gentle, intelligent and sensitive black child plopped into an all-white rural Vermont community that doesn’t exactly welcome him, and into a home which hasn’t recovered from its own tragic loss. Laura is finally seeking a way out of her all-consuming grief through Alfred, but Terry—a macho state trooper—hasn’t really dealt with his grief, resents Alfred, and is weary of cushioning Laura’s fragile psyche and begins to look elsewhere for solace.
The novel is bookended by horrific floods that are dramatically and realistically portrayed, and between them Bohjalian beautifully presents us with the ebbs and flows of the human condition.