As the novel opens in 2002 we learn that the protagonist, Evan Patrick Molloy, has been wandering through a particular house and its yard for ten years, passing through its walls, unperceived by any of the people who have occupied the house. Evan is a ghost. The house he wanders through is the one he lived in when he deliberately put an end to his life by gunshot ten years earlier. It is the house he had lived in for a while with his ex-wife, Claudia after he resumed his relationship with her. Claudia's 10 year old daughter from a second failed marriage, Janey, lived with them. Several individuals and families have occupied the house since Evan's suicide. The current occupant is Maureen, who has moved there as part of her attempt to break off a relationship with her married lover, Ned, a radiologist.

Evan's story is revealed as flashback, interwoven with Evan's present-day fascination with Maureen and his watchfulness over her. The flashback chronology is not sequential but Maureen's life in the house and her interaction with Ned, who tracks her down, unfolds chronologically. As Evan thinks back on his life he tries to reconstruct the events, relationships, and state of mind that culminated in his suicide. At the same time, he wants to understand what is going through Maureen's mind and what motivates her actions. These two narratives merge at the end of the novel.


The fundamental premise of this novel, that a believable narrative can be anchored in the reminiscences of a dead person, works surprisingly well in this author's hands. While there are ever-present elements of foreboding--other suicides and deaths, the unpredictable behavior of Janey and of Maureen's lover, Ned -- David Long has a light touch and successfully keeps the reader interested in and sympathetic to the foibles of his protagonist. The writing is self-assured, leisurely yet with no excess of words, often lyric, and never maudlin. The fog and rain of the Pacific Northwest is almost another character in the book.

Although Evan's relationship with his father was rather distant and Evan perceived him as someone whose standards were difficult to live up to, and although the mother whom he was close to eventually left her family and died prematurely, there's not much in Evan's background that would predict suicide. Rather, the novel depicts an ordinary individual with ordinary insecurities who makes occasional poor choices (most notably, carrying on an affair with a coworker) and finds himself in the grip of an anxiety and depression that he cannot shake. Part of his symptomatology is that at the crucial time, he cannot bring himself to reach out to friends and family for support, although he does make a few phone calls that don't reach anyone. It does not help that the medical attention he receives is probably inadequate to the task at hand, and yet we know that professional help in such situations can be ineffective. Hence even though this is a ghost story, the story told is true to life in all of its unpredictability, contingency, and mystery.


Houghton Mifflin

Place Published

New York



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