Red Leaves
Thomas H. Cook
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Red Leaves
Thomas H. Cook
300 pages
June 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Eric Moore's family enjoys a peaceful, well-ordered life until a tragic event alters the landscape of their happiness, the facade ripped away to expose cracks and fissures that have been there all along. Eric's teenaged son, Keith, babysits an eight-year-old girl, Amy Giordano. The following morning, Amy is missing and her father is convinced that Keith knows what happened to his daughter.

As an adult, Eric lives an outwardly complacent life, avoiding the shadowed memory of his mother's death when her car plunged over a bridge, the cancer that stole his beautiful sister and the general disharmony of his family of origin. Life with wife Meredith and son Keith is vastly different - a beautiful home, satisfying work and a teenager beset only with the familiar demons of adolescence.

Like his brick barbeque or his house, Eric's world is built to survive the elements and random violence, like "bacon and brewing coffee, odors that mark a family man as sure as perfume betrays a bounder." But Amy's disappearance exposes them all to an insidious doubt where Eric questions his son's veracity, fearful that Keith is hiding terrible secrets beyond the usual teenaged angst: "In life, it is not what we see but what we choose to be blind to that sustains us."

The mystery of the child's whereabouts sets off a chain reaction that affects everyone, especially Keith. Suspicion corrodes everything it touches - Eric and Meredith's relationship with their son, with each other, the town's innocence and gradual mistrust of a shy fifteen-year-old boy and whatever guilty knowledge lies in Keith's hidden thoughts. Eric's suspicion "turns into a raging affliction" and, suddenly, he wants answers to his father's cryptic remarks, his mother's untimely death, Keith's secretiveness, Meredith's judging, all of it.

Cook eviscerates complacency in any form, especially when the well-lived life is infected with the seed of doubt and the ugly eye of suspicion casts randomly for some place to land. Endemic distrust eats away family connections once so easily aligned, now jagged and ill-fitted. Meanwhile, Meredith grows more volatile, Keith more defiant and Eric more terrified, the town's facade altered by the loss of an eight-year-old girl.

The author handles a sensitive topic with fearless attention to detail, those irrevocable moments of misjudgment, careless conclusions and dangerous assumptions that lead to unexpected tragedy. The ending is heartbreaking, appropriate to the unthinking chaos unleashed in this story. In an age when everything moves too fast, the answers too readily at hand, this author spins a cautionary tale that is poignant and profoundly disturbing.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2005

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