In case you thought you were in a bit of a downward spiral, consider, if you will, Chase Stoller: his estranged (much estranged) father has just died, his wife left him, he got fired, his beloved sister is confined to a mental institution, and now he has to head back home and face the brother he does not particularly enjoy.
You’re feeling pretty good about yourself, aren’t you.
As challenging as things are for Chase, though, he’s doing okay. Or he will, once he’s figured out how to manage his reliance on booze and sex and a sort of pugilistic streak to solve his life’s problems.
But first he needs to bury the dead, even if he’d rather be drinking. And he needs to stay far away from the married woman to whom he finds himself almost irrationally attracted. And he needs to figure out a way to get along with his older brother, the guy who has installed himself as the Voice of Reason in the family. And he needs to see for himself – really investigate and know without a doubt – that his sister is being cared for and can’t be “cured.” Then there is a lingering attraction for a former girlfriend, and a near death-wish that causes him to greet every obstacle with his fists.
Once he gets all that sorted, he’ll be fine.
Jarrett writes with such an inventive voice that you feel as if you’ve pulled up a bar stool next to these characters; they seem real and made of flesh as opposed to words. Chase’s young niece and nephew are almost a Greek chorus of grade school insights, add a further layer of realism. Chase himself is not a father, nor has he felt himself inclined to be one, yet he is an adept paternal figure in the lives of his brother’s children. It isn’t so much that he sees himself in them as he sees what could have been, what could still be.
The humor is often dark and snarky (just the way I like it). After one of Chase’s physical fits of anger, someone asks him what happened. He replies, “I cut myself shaving.” I don’t know why, but I laughed out loud when I read that. He also engages in a sort of witty banter with his brother, along with just about everyone else with whom he comes in contact.
For all of the humor and emotional pain that Jarrett details, the message is quite simple: sort out your life. Find what makes you happy, do it, and forgive yourself when you fail. Easy to accomplish? No. Certainly not for Chase, who engages in self-flagellation as a sport. But words to live by, nonetheless.
If you don’t, you risk people discovering your sordid pastimes when you die.