A darkly humorous debut novel of suburban survival and life's occasional miracles
When Jack Lang impulsively buys a second house directly across the street from his own, his wife Beth leaves him-and their six-year-old autistic son, Hendrick-to move in with Jack's best friend, Terry Canavan. Jack tells everyone in his life he's okay, but no one believes him. Not his employees at Patriot Mulch & Tree in suburban North Carolina, not Beth herself, and not Canavan's estranged girlfriend Rena, who arrives on Jack's doorstep to see how, and whether, he's bearing up. When Jack starts letting Rena further into his life, and when Hendrick suddenly starts speaking fluent Spanish-stunning everyone-it becomes apparent to Jack that the world is far more complicated than he believed.
As Drew Perry's characters change houses, partners, and perceptions, Hendrick emerges from his shell in unexpected and delightful ways and becomes, at times, this witty and winning debut novel's center of gravity-he's parenting the confused grown-ups as often as they are him. Perry's fresh and funny insights into marriage, autism, parenthood, and suburban ennui (not to mention mulch) create a landscape that will charm and captivate fans of Tom Perrotta and Jennifer Haigh.
""First-time novelist Perry tells a story that, in summary, seems like a rehash of a Lifetime movie-of-the-week.
Beth and Jack Lang's marriage hits the rocks, and when she moves in with his best friend, Jack is left alone to care for their son Hendrick, who has autism. Alone, that is, until his best friend's girlfriend Rena shows up on his doorstep. But what Perry does with this seemingly paint-by-numbers story is anything but predictable and melodramatic. The reasons behind Beth leaving Jack are at once believable and at the same time poignant; ""You can't just let everything happen to you,"" she says, and Jack's attempts to make sense of this are at the center of the novel. Hendrick is the best part of both their lives and the book-as Jack's world unravels around him, Hendrick proves to be both an anchor and a source of many surprises. Perry doesn't shy away from looking closely at the how and why of the crumbling marriage, but lightens the mood with witty writing reminiscent of Tom Perrotta.
-Matthew Tiffany, Booklist
A husband loses his way and tries to find his life's meaning in the wreckage. Writing teacher Perry (English/Elon Univ.) makes good on his short stories, which appear in publications like New Stories from the South, with a striking debut novel about a man whose responsibilities haven't yet overcome his ambitions. The narrative posits itself as being about an everyman hero, Jack Lang, the reluctant owner of a North Carolina mulching business and caring father to his six-year-old autistic son, Hendrick. Except that Jack is far from being every man, as he struggles to take in the bewildering creature his child has become and still believes that the impossible is doable. In fact, Jack's diversions-buying a second house the family doesn't need, for example-have driven his wife, Bethany, to move in with his best friend, Terry Canavan. ""No good answer, like most other things,"" Perry writes. ""He goes ahead with projects without planning them all the way through first. It makes her crazy. He knows this, does it anyway. Gets excited."" Out of these tales of ordinary madness, Perry constructs a riveting familial drama. Jack is oddly detached emotionally, failing to strike out at his wife's infidelity other than making a mean-spirited drive through Terry's yard, for which he later apologizes. But the troubled trio soon becomes an even more dysfunctional quartet when Terry's estranged girlfriend Rena moves in with Jack, initiating a bizarrely civil case of partner swapping. ""But we at least have to hate each other more if we're going to keep acting like this,"" Beth professes. ""We at least have to act like regular lunatics."" The domestic drama is far from the book's sole attraction, as Perry breathes glorious life into Hen, whose repetitive jabber-mimicking not only TV advertisements but also his parents' appalling banter-gives the novel a unique rhythm of its own.
A charitable and bleakly funny portrait of the American dream gone off the rails.