Over the course of a fiercely hot Texan summer, the five members of the Campbell family struggle to rediscover ordinary life. For Mum Laura, father Eric, grandpa Cecil and brother Griff, it’s as if their prayers have been answered: Justin, the teenage boy abducted four years earlier, has been found. But change, however much desired, requires a challenging adjustment. Will they ever be an ordinary family again?
I found this an extremely poignant return to the territory of abduction (as portrayed in Pretty Is and The Girl in the Red Coat) and family divided by grief (like Everything I Never Told You and A Song for Issy Bradley) as the members tiptoe around each other in an attempt to ease each other’s pain. The slow pace allows for evocative description and emotional depth, for example (p211):
I was gripped by this book while I was reading it, yet, after I’d finished, I did wonder about the author’s decision not to invite the reader inside Justin’s head. Like his parents, grandfather and brother, we can only surmise what he’s suffered during those four lost years and how he feels to be back (p89):
If they ever found him alive, Eric knew Justin would be so altered by the trauma that he’d bear no resemblance to the boy who’d disappeared. Of course they would accept the changed boy; they’d adopt him, offer up Justin’s room, lend him their son’s name. But Eric also knew there’d be a chasm between them.
Off scene, Justin has appointments with the police inspector and with a social worker who “seemed to hold in her mind both the pain he’d endured and the courage that such endurance required” (p129). Described as a specialist in adolescent psychology, this social worker exudes a confidence I doubted her real-life counterpart would have as she speaks to Laura and Eric about Stockholm syndrome. How many abductees have you actually seen? I wondered. And I couldn’t make up my mind whether it was right for Justin to see her alone, respecting his almost-adult need for confidentiality, or whether it was neglectful not to work with the Campbells as a family (the meeting with the parents referred to being, I think, a one-off).
As this is my last review for October, here’s a reminder of the other books I’ve reviewed this month. Click on the image to catch up with any of those you’ve missed.