In the modern world, abandonment is a recurring theme for fatherless children, an invisible scar that lies, corrosive, next to the heart that bears such a burden. No Direction Home addresses such abandonment, tales of men who run from their families, the wives and children left to cope and the long road to forgiveness, a treachery-laden path.
When Frank forfeits his home in Missouri with Caroline and his sons, Will takes the blame unto himself, certain his father would have stayed if he had been the right kind of son. Ten-years old and twin to Nathan, Will has the more impaired vision of the two, a disappointment to their astronomer father, Frank, who looks for solace in the mysteries of the universe. Caroline thought to reinvent herself in this marriage, only to be abandoned once more, her father's leaving still fresh in her adult mind.
In California, Caroline's father, Victor, does return to his family eventually, his acting career on the descent, life with Eleanor a quiet oasis after bachelorhood, but he couldn't anticipate Eleanor's swift decline into dementia. Now Victor cares for his ailing wife, a woman's whose mind is no longer accessible to her daughter.
Grown weary as caretaker, Vincent hires Amador, an illegal with family problems of his own, wife and children left behind in Mexico. Victor admires Amador's quietude: "to be present and not present at the same time is a quality that recommends a person to such unrequited duty.” In truth, Amador cannot speak Victor's language.
Sons in tow, Caroline returns to Eleanor's small house in Los Angeles, where an alcoholic Victor is uncomfortable with his daughter. To Vincent, "Caroline is like a room full of funhouse mirrors. He doesn't want to act trapped and end up staring at his elongated or horrifically fattened self.” While Victor sorts out his feelings for his daughter, she befriends a sympathetic Amador and the sparks that ignite between Amador and Caroline are brief, but healing, "Her smile shoots through him like a little death.”
Meanwhile, two teenagers, one from Mexico and the other from the Midwest, set out alone, each making their way to the same destination: Rogelio, Amador's fourteen-year old son and Marlene, Frank's daughter from an earlier relationship. These two young people travel unprotected, prey to constant dangers, yet focused on locating their errant fathers.
Through a variety of characters, the author creates a chorus of hopes, needs and unanswered questions, all driven to the source, their fathers, men as befuddled as their wives and children. Silver's prose is insightful, deeply empathetic and nonjudgmental, focused on individual struggles and the all-too-human face of suffering, her language charged with grace. Trenchant observations render this novel a pleasure to read, intimate details exposing the characters' vulnerabilities. Ultimately, Caroline realizes "that it is not given to us to occupy the life we live, that we must choose each day to be present.”