Grief is always an unwanted intruder, and when Rick and Naomi's seven-year old daughter, Dahlia, is killed in an automobile accident, the couple is overwhelmed with loss. Unable to comfort each other, each is bound up in a private world of pain, their feelings bottled inside. The grieving couple suffers the consequences of this lack of communication.
The empty hours weigh on Naomi, who now volunteers at the hospital where her daughter died. She strikes up a friendship with Michael McBride, the doctor who informed her Dahlia was gone. For his part, Naomi's husband, Rick, escapes into the fantasy of the Internet, beginning a flirtation with his attractive divorced office manager, Lillian. Both husband and wife are evading their true crisis, the test of their marriage since a devastating loss.
Naomi's mother, Estelle Levine, long-widowed, currently stays in an assisted-living home, struggling with the loss of her short-term memory and haunted by a child named Dahlia, not sure who the child is or why she longs for the girl. It is Estelle's blunt observations that are most helpful in resolving the contretemps between husband and wife, Naomi and Rick. When the old woman does connect with the present, she clearly sees the dilemma that Naomi cannot solve, how to get past her pain, forgive herself and her husband and move on. Estelle serves as the catalyst for a badly stalled marriage.
The main protagonists live in the present, and each systematically reveals his past, chapter after chapter, character after character. This approach flattens the plot line into predictability, limiting the dramatic scope of the story save one shocking event at the finish. For all the extra-curricular grappling between the partners, all the impassioned love scenes, there is little real emotional intensity.
The incidental characters are also caught up in Naomi and Rick's search for comfort - one, McBride's daughter, in a particularly brutal way in a random twist of fate. Other than what happens to this innocent, the adults get their just rewards in this moralistic tome of grief and infidelity, a firm lesson on the realities of commitment.
For those who appreciate the work of Elizabeth Berg, this will doubtless be an enjoyable novel, peppered with grief, infidelity and the pathos of ruined lives strewn behind, albeit with a palpable lack of depth. The characters are riddled with morality yet humanly flawed, more than willing to endure the disparate consequences of their impulsive actions. Although yawningly predictable for the most part, the author strives for some intense drama at the end, putting considerable energy into the resolution of conflicts.
As Rick and Naomi search for a way back, Estelle's presence reminds them of the impermanence of life. The other, more peripheral characters face more challenging adjustments, proving that adversity often breeds unexpected strengths. Change is inevitable, even natural and all of those left In Dahlia's Wake are forced to embrace it, reaching toward a future free of past recriminations.