Like all of Boyle’s books, this is beautifully written, but the craft of the writing is the ONLY place you’ll find beauty in this book. This CBR has been my year for depressing books, and the only reason this didn’t feel AS bleak is that my heart’s been ripped out too recently by some of my other selections for this to make a dent. But no one in this book comes out unscathed.
It also helps (hurts?) that none of the characters here are particularly pleasant. Sten Stenson, retired principal, comes closest to being likeable, forced into a violent act on vacation with his wife. His son, Adam, has his no-nonsense manner, though none of his father’s moderation, robbed of it by mental illness that leads him into an off-the-grid existence and the arms of Sara. Sara is a sovereign citizen, who declines to recognize the authority of the United States government and finds Adam to be like minded.
Because he’s crazy. Boyle writes some of Sara’s complaints as near-rational, because he’d have to in order to make her a believable character, but it was just so difficult to spend time with a character whose ignorance fuels another’s actual mental illness. When it all goes to hell, you feel for Carolee and Sten – and Boyle twists the knife a bit by reflecting briefly on Adam’s childhood – but the outcome of placing a lit match near a tankard of gasoline is less a tragedy and more of a “what did you think was going to happen?”