Released after fourteen years of incarceration for a murder he didn’t commit thanks to DNA technology, Mister Myrden has adapted to life behind bars, constricting his thoughts and actions to the parameters of everyday existence. Newly thrust into a curious world, everything is overwhelming - the lights, the noise, the ability to move from one place to another without observation.
In shock, Myrden returns to a home that is unfamiliar. His wife lives in a new place, his children are headed down the same disastrous path as he by virtue of their family dysfunction, friends and strangers gather with a barrage of questions about what he will do now.
There is one person who lights the way for this lost man: granddaughter Caroline, seven years old, a child he hasn’t seen until his release. But her mother, his daughter, Jackie, is cautious. She remembers all too well the violent father, the unpredictable temper and the drunken rants of her childhood. It is Caroline who offers Myrden unconditional love in a frightening world grown too big, too oppressive in his absence.
An affable lawyer informs Myrden that a large settlement is possible, understanding his client’s concerns, his desire to protect Jackie and Caroline from her violent husband, Caroline’s father, Willis Grum. Myrden has little hope for his sons, all on the road to prison save the eldest, who escaped the family legacy, another son already in the ground. Myrden’s dreams are small and attainable but for Willis, who brutalizes and terrorizes Jackie and Caroline.
Shadowing his lifelong buddy, Randy, Myrden allows himself to be led from bar to bar, from blackout to hangover, terrified of his own anger, his strength and lack of control simmering beneath the surface. This is what prison teaches: controlled rage in the name of survival. Slowly, the protagonist wends his way back to an old love, Ruth, a shimmering memory in an otherwise baleful past, a woman who allows him to explore what other men take for granted.
Ruth by his side, Myrden tries to seize what is offered, but always he is called back by blood, by the brutality endemic to generations who pass their self-fulfilling despair to sons and daughters. Myrden is assaulted everywhere by frustration, bureaucracy and greed, even his best efforts a struggle in this changed environment.
With sparse prose that sets the pace for a fragmented and disjointed return to a broken society where violence is familiar and kindness the exception, Myrden cannot escape the past or the future, caught in a web of generational dysfunction, a prison on the outside to rival that of the past fourteen years: “They were heart-mangled. It was their family legacy.”
Either you will recognize the stark truth of this unsettling novel or you will not, but Harvey is unflinching in his portrayal of a man trapped between hope and reality, a hardened heart calmed for a brief moment before Myrden bows to his destiny.