Secrets. He spoke of that night to almost no one for ten years, as if he’d just jumped town and what happened here, his entire childhood, didn’t stow away with him.
Cole has returned to his hometown of East Granby, Connecticut. “It’s taken him nearly thirty years to come back…” in search of wood for his construction business, wood of superb quality, chestnut. Being his busiest season the return isn’t meant to last longer than a few days, somehow he stays longer. The only piece of the past he wants are what he can take in his flatbed, the wood. As soon as he arrives, he can hear echoes of his mother and her beautiful French, soon remembering her dreams of life in France, but to come the memories of the brutal fights, of the bruises, the years of abuse before his father stole her last breath. Remembering the rages that would move through his father, he feels disgust at any resemblance of brooding or anger he ever expressed when he was with Niki, his wife. Phil, his father, is as gruff as ever, sixteen years out of prison for murdering Cole’s mother, his mind is deteriorating with signs of dementia and Cole is surprised to find him living in their old home. One moment he is present, aware, the next he doesn’t know who his own son is. Trouble is brewing back home in Oregon with his son Daniel whose just been arrested, his social justice ideas hard not recognize as coming for an admirable place but no less criminal according to the law. Cole’s plan is to get his son working a job in tobacco, just like he did when he was a teenager. His son sees East Granby as ‘the sticks’, tobacco representing all the wealthy types he hates, though interested in the grandfather he is finally meeting who is teaching him how to make crepes. His father’s childhood finally open to him. Daniel is much wiser at times than his dad, seeing that not everything can be easily fixed, that it takes action, of course action is why Daniel is always getting himself in trouble. Then there is Liz, his first love back in his life again and the painful secrets she kept are finally being released too. Instead of a hot affair you expect from such novels, it brings to Cole’s mind all the ways he has failed his marriage and his wife Niki. For me, this makes the novel far more believable, that when the two come together it isn’t to salivate and pant over their old loves as if the past 30 years haven’t happened.
Liz brings up all the spoiled past tied up with her brother Kirk, someone in his youth Cole failed to confront. Much like being unable to stand up to his father, failing to stop his mother’s murder, he still carries guilt of failing Liz. It’s hard to even fathom giving a damn about the father who murdered your mother, but it’s much too late to punish him because his father is slipping in and out of the past and present, confused. Cole has carried everything with him and allowed it, despite his best efforts of avoiding the traps of the past, to affect his family. Returning is to East Granby is a confrontation Cole never wanted, but he gets it all the same. Famous for mirroring his mother’s beliefs, that each time is ‘the last time’, he has embraced avoidance in his own life much the same. Kirk’s son LK (Little Kirk) becomes friends with Daniel but as things sour, the old Kirk proves he is still the same bully he always was.
Do we let tragic events define us? Sometimes they do despite our best efforts. Maybe if he can work through the past, get his father sorted out he can move forward and have a chance again in his marriage with Niki? Be the father his son needs. His father still surprises him, and not all of it terrible. This is an exploration on abuse and how the past haunts us until we are able to face the dark monsters, in others and ourselves.