Kavanaughís autobiographical novel is a successful melding of real-life dilemmas with a plotline too outrageous not to be based in truth. From the Loma Prieta earthquake in northern California in 1989, when her family falls apart, to the ten-year anniversary of the event ten years later, the author rides a rollercoaster of financial double-dealing, a breakup, a sham marriage, and a frustrating attempt to create a viable family environment.
Living on credit cards and limited resources, when Mary breaks from her ex, the musician father of her small daughter, the first item of business is a job. Interested in the field of private investigation, Mary renews contact with an old boss, Dan Murphy, in hopes of negotiating employment. Also recently freed from a stagnant relationship, Dan has romance on his mind, Maryís infatuation with the slightly-older suitor blinding her to his chaotic financial practices.
Thus begins an odyssey, albeit hilarious, of rationalization in the face of shoddy business dealings. A criminal attorney, Dan has formed financial partnerships with a number of questionable characters. But in her zeal to have a ďrealĒ marriage and give her daughter security, Mary blithely overlooks Danís troubling baggage to satisfy her dreams, including a deep affection for Danís parents, a quirky couple who routinely hide cash in paper bags in the basement of their home.
The more secrets she uncovers, the more entrenched Mary becomes in her commitment to the marriage. The red flags are waving, but this determined woman refuses to acknowledge the dangerous territory on which she treads. Danís family is rife with financial legerdemain, but equally devoted to the care and maintenance of their other family plots - the prepaid plots in a nearby cemetery.
Mysteries are plentiful: the death of Danís brother years before; Danís current business partner, a shady miscreant who absconds with the cash in the middle of an important deal; and Danís many business associates, most with felonious backgrounds. Operating below the radar, Dan actively obscures any paper trail that might implicate him in monetary wrongdoing and handles all transactions in cash.
Co-signing Danís business practices, Mary keeps the family afloat, just barely, until reality strikes, rendering their financial problems irrelevant. Wry, acerbic and self-deprecating, this is a sad tale of love among the ruins of illegal deals, a house of cards destined to collapse under the weight of subterfuge. The first-person narrative allows the author to riff along the margins of society, charming the reader with her sly behavior, all in the name of the American dream. The she wakes up: ďIllness and death - they were just not glamorous.Ē