Malcolm Vaughan, an architect, his wife, Sarah, a biochemist, and their five-year-old son, Harry, are driving home one evening. The driver of the car in front of them is acting strangely. Malcolm goes to investigate and the driver shoots him dead. The novel traces the effects of Malcolm's death from the alternating points of view of his wife and his best friend, Deckard Jones, a black Vietnam vet. Following different and often conflicting trajectories but linked by their love for Harry, both Sarah and Deck begin to move from traumatized shock to the beginnings of recovery.


After the shocking beginning, there is not much overt action in this novel. Much happens, nonetheless. McFarland's interest is in the effects of Malcolm's murder on the three people closest to him, and he examines their responses in minute and perceptive detail, going over the same time periods more than once, from both Sarah's and Deck's points of view.

The author's skill lies in his ability to evoke subtle feelings precisely: Sarah's shock, self-blame, and mourning, and the effects of these on her physical health (there's a beautifully observed visit to a chiropractor for her back pain); Deck's own grief, and the effect it has on his mental health, reactivating memory problems associated with the post traumatic stress disorder he has suffered since the Vietnam War; and, seen through the adults' often incompatible perspectives, Harry's struggle to come to terms both with the loss of his father and with his mother's newly evident fragility. Sarah and Deck are different, in gender, race, and class, and in what they expect of the world. The novel, in its unraveling of these expectations and responses, offers a moving exploration of loss and its aftermath.


Henry Holt

Place Published

New York



Page Count