Griffin’s emotional novel is salted with painful realities: the sudden loss of a four-year-old in a hit-and-run accident, the toll that death takes on parents, and the unexpected unraveling of a counselor’s carefully constructed life.
While little Abby lies dead in front of her preschool, Bright Futures, her mother’s world is turned inside-out. Barely able to cope with her loss, Tessa Gray finds herself adrift, a victim of ungovernable emotions, only tangentially aware of her husband’s suffering: “My life will never be normal again.”
The police in Wenonah Falls, a small town outside Boston, are slow to respond to Tessa’s entreaties, a fact that fills both Tessa and Ethan with rage. On Ethan’s advice, Tessa seeks therapy with Celia Reed. Although it would appear Tessa is the crux of the novel, Griffin escapes the constraints of Tessa’s grief, deftly focusing on Celia’s interactions with her new client and blending both in an unfolding drama.
Celia’s issues are triggered by her own advice, a request that freelance writer Tessa begin a daily journal. Thoughtfully, Celia begins her own journal, which she locks each night in the drawer of her office desk. It is the revelations in Celia’s diary that deliver the nuanced layers of the therapist’s private life.
Remarried after a divorce from Harry, her alcoholic ex-husband, Celia seeks quiet and predictability in her marriage to Alden. Currently, the only problem Celia is aware of is the uneasy relationship between Alden and Celia’s fifteen-year-old son, Ian. Regardless of her best intentions, Celia remains critical of Harry. Ian defends his father, who has begun a twelve-step program to deal with his out-of-control drinking.
Alden postures as new man of the house, Ian reacting as any teen might to the situation. Celia is caught in the middle: “I’m walking a tightrope… the easy way out is to fall.” Unfortunately, Celia hasn’t the luxury of a safety net. While Celia assumes the dispassionate mien of her profession when meeting with Tessa, she secretly roils with the emotions unleashed in her journal.
What makes this novel exceptional is the balancing of conflict - Tessa’s need to solve the mystery of a hit-and-run driver and find closure, and Celia’s mounting problems at home. While Tessa and Ethan’s grief and anger is straightforward, Celia’s mixed bag of troubles exposes the real-life concerns of caregivers. No matter how effective Celia is in dealing with clients such as Tessa, she has little control over her own circumstances.
While Harry works to address the damage of his drinking, Celia is locked in the controlling behavior of the spouse of an alcoholic, micromanaging everything in her world but unable to resolves the tragedy at the heart of the failure of her first marriage.
Life strikes, and the survivors make accommodations. In the face of grim realities, Griffin mines a terrible event with an eye to consequences, the loss of one mother triggering the troubles of another. With an added twist, both women come face to face with the truth of their situation and the healing process of forgiveness, a harrowing, yet rewarding journey.