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Elson, the father, is met first. Divorced, living with a younger woman, he's an architect whose buildings, ''too severe, too cold'', seem to echo his personality.
Liking a degree of anonymity, he has been drinking in a Houston hotel where no-one knows him. He stops on his way home to check his messages and finds a flurry of them from his ex-wife, Cadence.
When he phones her, she tells him that their daughter, Chloe, is on her way home from her Boston university, having been temporarily expelled for reasons she will not explain.
Their son Richard makes his appearance next, participating in a poetry workshop at his tutor's house. Richard is talented but tortured, ambivalent about being involved with gay friends whose friendship he values, but whose morals are dubious. He has been delegated to meet his errant sister, as they have a close sibling bond.
The bond is made stronger by their mutual distress at the nastiness of their parents' divorce.
We soon learn a little more about the mystery surrounding Chloe's disgrace, but information is leaked so slowly throughout the book that it's not until nearly the end that the entire story is revealed. Meanwhile, I found myself becoming as frustrated as the rest of her family, who were desperate to know the truth.
In fact, I found the whole family frustrating to read about.
Cadence has sessions with her psychiatrist in which she refuses to answer his questions, but continues to go to him out of ''boredom and loneliness''; Chloe refuses to reveal the circumstances that led to her expulsion; Richard cannot decide whether or not to take up an offer of a poetry scholarship to graduate school; and Elson spends a lot of time regretting choices made in his earlier life.
I began this book with high expectations, as there is a positive quote about the author's previous work from Marilynne Robinson on its back cover, and Porter has won several awards for his short fiction. But although themes such as the importance of communication within a marriage and the destructive impact a parental divorce can have on older adolescents were strongly covered, the characters and their problems failed to connect with me.
- Patricia Thwaites is a retired schoolteacher.