Patrick Ryan's tender, intimate Send Me centers on family matriarch Teresa Kerrigan, who is forced to plot an uneasy course through two failed marriages as she tries to raise her four children, sometimes against insurmountable odds.
Using vignettes from her life, Ryan traces Teresa's path from the 1960s,
'70s and '80s, then on to the present as she is forced to shoulder many of life's disappointments and burdens while coping with the small dramas of her family and the paths that her children take, not all of them expected.
Her first husband, the dolefully irresponsible Dermot, panics at the thought of having to raise two children and ends up abandoning Teresa, running back to the safety of his wealthy Italian-American family in upstate New York. "I'm just not cut out for it," reads Teresa in a letter left by Dermot shortly after he vanishes.
Left to raise the young Matt and Karen on her own while living in a hotel in Washington, Teresa's life at this time is characterized
by anger and desperation, "like a ship steering into a storm." She can barely comprehend Dermot's desertion. After declining a marriage proposal from a work colleague, Teresa lands on Merritt Island in Florida, not far from the Johnson Space Center, where she marries Roy, a NASA worker, and has two more children, Frankie and Joe.
Roy, however, proves to be Teresa's undoing, although he's undoubtedly handsome and charming, "a solid tank of a man."
The die is certainly cast, and after he gets laid off from NASA, he becomes angry and impatient, spending a month lumbering aimlessly around the house and in the end choosing his longtime lover over his dearly beloved family.
As a child, Frankie holds dear to his desire to be Luke Skywalker's intergalactic true love, until
Star Wars meets New Wave and Skywalker yields to Simon Le Bon. Declaring himself gay at fifteen, Frankie's attitude toward love and sex eventually catches up with him.
When AIDS inevitably strikes, he grows older, becoming obsessed with spaceships. He even becomes convinced that a race of aliens is coming to earth to teach and save him, and us.
Meanwhile, Matt runs off the Utica to look after his ailing father, and Karen reigns supreme in the family, with no real money or plans other than being some place that isn't on Merritt Island. Indeed, Karen spends much of her adult life working in delis and restaurants. In debt and a high-school dropout, Karen becomes a somewhat reckless woman who has made a habit out of landing herself in life's sticky spots.
The shy, withdrawn Joe is unlike any other character in the novel; he doesn't hold fast to any of his desires, or to any truths about himself. He goes off to college and develops a yearning for a sexy young circus performer while also trying desperately to connect with his younger brother, Frankie, and his wild gay friends.
An astute observer of family dynamics, Ryan gets right to the heart of these people: the three sons who have remarkably different needs, a daughter who gets caught up in the rebelliousness of adolescence, two husbands who both abscond from the responsibilities of family and fatherhood, and a mother whose young life is decimated by the loss of her security, her family finally scattered to the winds with only her youngest and most precious for comfort and consolation.
Certainly for Teresa, time has been a whirlwind packed with family tragedies, her life a maelstrom of trials and tribulations, a vast wheel turning relentlessly toward events that even she could not foresee in this story's unexpected and rather bittersweet conclusion.