Claire Andrews seems to have it all. A specialist in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, she
is now a respected teacher of art history who has been celebrating her newly discovered independence after separating from her artist husband, Richard.
One night, during her usual evening commute
through the frigid and wintry landscape draped with broadening shadows, a tired Claire momentarily becomes distracted by another driver
and hits a young redheaded boy on a skateboard frozen in place, his head and shoulders squared clearly in front of her windshield.
The police tell Claire not to worry - it wasn't her mistake - and instantly clear her of any misconduct. The witnesses
corroborate her story: nothing she could have done, not her fault, the boy skated out in front with no regard for traffic, "we all saw it…"
It was all just a tragic, fateful death.
The investigators tell Claire to stay away from the parents and fight the urge for apology, for remorse. "It's best to keep looking forward, and figure out what you need to figure out along the way." Claire however, remains haunted by this face she will never forget, always emerging from the shadows when she closes her eyes at night.
How could this have happened? Wrapped in layers of confusion and questions, Claire's life is irrevocably changed overnight, "You just don't run a kid over on his skateboard and expect to keep on schedule." The boy's powerful grandfather, out for blood, decides to sue, making certain that this case is the biggest story in years.
Meanwhile, Richard offers to help; Claire accepts, and he moves back into her house. True salvation, however, comes in the unlikeliest of places - from Vincent van Gogh's final work, especially in his portrait of the wheatfield under the ominous crow-filled sky, where Claire sees the three paths flowing away into the expanse of possibilities.
Advised by her boss and by Richard to get away, Claire decides to travel to the wheatfields of Auvers-sur-Oise to finish
her book on Van Gogh. Here, among the familiar streets and sooted air, maybe she can rediscover
"Crows over the Wheatfield" and at least uncover some of its truths and in the process heal some of her own demons.
Beside the ivy-laden grave of Van Gogh lies, in her mind, the headstone of Ronnie Kennealy, the boy she killed,
its granite equally weathered, the ground as aged and hardened. She at once feels the knots tightening in her stomach and the weight of guilt seeping through her.
Claire is thrust into a type of existential journey where she gravitates toward Vincent
Van Gogh, seeing his tortured soul as similar to her own suffering, their relationship a complicated blend of artist and admirer. All she really wants to do was walk in Vincent's shoes hard enough to feel that last step where he stops firmly and lifts his pistol to his chest.
This eloquent, beautifully structured novel is an exploration of how the past can reach into the present and shape the morality of indecision, and how certain ties can bind together art and fate and the limitations of chance.
Certainly from a legal and intellectual standpoint, Claire understands how she is innocent of any wrongdoing in the accident, yet she also recognizes that she is perhaps part of a wider universal collision in a moving target of chance.
She accepts a type of silent witness, inexplicably tormented by grief, loss and the fragility of human life.