The voices circling Joseph’s novel are reminiscent of William Faulkner as each
character sifts through broken dreams, misdirected anger, and fragile, evolving love.
Each family member rings true to themselves while providing a distorted view of those around them. Even the central character--fourteen-year-old Caleb Vincent, recently returned to parents Maureen and Jeff and
his little sister, Lark--is swept up in societal expectations in a way that brings him both joy and anguish.
Although Caleb is back in the bosom of his family, he remains mired in existential despair, brought upon after the FBI
found him living with suspected pedophile Charles “Jolly” Lundy, a man whom Caleb loved and who loved him in equal measure. Julianne Brewer, Caleb’s favorite FBI agent and a specialist in crimes against children, is quick to brand Jolly as a stereotype. But far from
suffering a catalog of horrors, intelligent Caleb actually blossomed under Lundy’s tutelage. For two whole months, he’d even been a freshman in a public school in Providence, Washington.
Thrusting us into her multi-faceted story, Joseph doesn’t offer any clear answers to issues of child abuse
but rather frames questions of pedophilia and illicit sexual desire in a way
that forces us to question our assumptions. Overjoyed that Caleb has been returned to them, the family are told not to dwell too much on those years. Although Maureen and Jeff are well aware of Caleb’s changed condition, Maureen still blames Jeff for being unable to cope with the loss of his son and
giving up on Maureen as much as he on Caleb. A woman with a history of drug abuse, Maureen realizes they’re in “unsheltered waters.”
She gravitates between overprotecting Caleb and dealing with her own selfish, hedonistic needs.
Joseph’s story seethes with moments of believable and fragile beauty. The subtle gestures, the shifts in tone, and the tough, terse prose reflect the beginning of the Vincents’
journey towards a healing that is initiated by the trip to Costa Rica. Spurred by the relentless media hounding and by Lark's
desire to stay at her grandmother’s tropical Cloud Forest, it’s hardly surprising the family wants to “get away.”
They jump at the chance to live in a new country, to find a new life and a new approach to time and existence that will be at least be step one toward completing their restoration.
Each chapter is told from a different character's point of view. The exercise of sexual power dominates even as the focus turns to Grandmother Hilda, who sees it as her job to put right “a universe that has tumbled off balance.” Caleb is at once
thrilled to be let loose in a foreign land. Finally able to relax, the family find themselves lovingly ensconced in the fog-shrouded Finca Aguilar, Hilda’s grand estate fastened to the side of the mountain like “the figurehead of a ship.” Even neurotic Maureen, who anxiously listens over the wind, is at long last
suffused with the daily wonder of letting her son go. This gradual healing of Maureen's
fractured dynamic helps create dramatic tension and adds to the tale’s thematic resolution.
The intense Costa Rican landscapes serve as a vibrant backdrop, and for a brief moment this tropical paradise is filled with the voices of its characters: Jeff’s brother, Lowell, "a freeloader" who has never taken on any adult responsibility and hangs around with a rootless tribe of opportunists; lumpish Isabel, who reads American fashion magazines, is crazy for American TV shows, and attempts to fortify Caleb as he takes the first tentative steps out of hiding; and the story's most intriguing character, enigmatic Luis--“an exotic brujo” who at first flirts with Caleb and has a reputation for being “a witch” but wants more than anything to work as a whore in Costa Rica’s subterranean sex clubs and gay bars.
An essential element to Joseph’s courageous, vital story is how Caleb largely accepts his predicament even when he has a fantastical need to contact the ghosts of his past. As he continues to pine for Jolly, his beloved, misunderstood genius and savior, he comes to believe he is no longer a “fragile brother or the stupid son." But Caleb must also reconcile how the world thinks of him and, equally importantly, where he stands in it when the dangers and possibilities of his loving relationships are still connected to the terrible consequences
of Jolly’s forbidden affections.