Santoro's novel is at times beguiling and at others disturbing, a portrait of a reluctant mother distracted by the attentions of a young man half her age. Single mother Anna has had an acrimonious relationship with her ex, who lives in England, since the divorce. The marriage was hardly more harmonious, daughter Eva the only good thing to come of the union.
Ensconced in New Mexico ("the dry end of the Rockies") with eight-year-old Eva, former world-traveling writer Anna has struggled with early motherhood, resenting the demands, the crying and the unpredictability of a dependent child. She has survived—barely—as has Eva. Their relationship draws a loose structure from Esperanza, though Anna's association with the housekeeper is reflective of her lack of boundaries. Espi often reports for duty after days of binge drinking, her loud, dysfunctional extended family welcoming Anna and Eva with open arms.
Anna is a former cocaine addict who drinks too much, skimming the surface of life with daughter in tow. An ill-considered affair is impossible to resist, even though she realizes that the object of her obsession is a boy in a man's body. Even at forty, she is drawn to folly without a second thought. Through it all, Eva has become a little adult, instructing Anna in time management and household matters, generally reversing roles with her mother. It is no surprise when Anna allows herself to fall into a thoughtless affair with a neighbor's son, hours of erotic release facilitating her escape from the realities of her existence. As Eva leaves for a summer with her father, Anna falls down the rabbit hole only to face the consequences of her self-indulgence upon Eva's return.
The lines are drawn clearly: ex-husband as angry parent figure; child as adult; mother as rebel; and caretaker as well-meaning but ineffective. The love affair is a distraction, disposable, but will be purchased at great cost, Anna's ego belatedly connecting to the depth of her fall. Needless to say, alcohol is the great leveler, a symptom, not an excuse. In fact, Santoro offers none on behalf of her protagonist but simply states the facts of this tragic family unraveling.
Some things about this book are stellar: the brutal honesty, the superb quality of the writing. Ironically, it becomes harder to overlook Anna's unremitting pursuit of distraction, her fragile defense against questionable parenting and a fear of responsibility. Anna marvels at the child/adult Eva has become yet has no ability for self-governance. Boneless, weightless, Anna lets life happen without much consideration until her tragically late epiphany: "We have children and we don't know how."