Joseph Olshan
February 09, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST


Current Status
In Season
Ron Hansen
Fiction, Essays

We gave it a B+

Atticus Cody, a highly methodical, caring father, has spent his life worrying about his wayward, artistic, and, at times, emotionally unstable son Scott. In and out of prestigious art colleges as well as mental institutions, Scott has trailed his on-again, off-again girlfriend to Mexico. The story opens when he returns by himself to Colorado for a Christmas visit. The first 40 pages or so of Hansen’s fourth novel are breathtakingly eloquent, resonant with father-son yearning, edgy with exchanges between the two men, atmospheric: You can taste the cold air, you can smell Atticus’ house, and you can’t help wanting to continue witnessing the attempts of Atticus and Scott to reach each other. But Hansen (Mariette in Ecstasy, Desperadoes) has other ideas. A month after Scott returns to Mexico, Atticus learns that his son has committed suicide; he flies down and quickly discovers that Scott may actually have been murdered. Though one can well understand the choice to set an act of violence at the center of this novel, the Mexico section, by far the longest, cannot equal the power of the novel’s early pages. All Hansen’s energies are funneled toward Atticus’ solving a brutal mystery, which, though well handled, doesn’t manifest any fully realized minor characters. And yet, to his credit, Atticus does end with a wonderful twist.

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