For his entire adult life, Sean has been a traveler. As a nurse, he's traveled the world to war zones and refugee camps, caring for the most destitute people on the planet. He's been a man without a home, without connections. The way Sean sees it, he might not have much time left, so why should he bother forming attachments that will only need to be severed?
Sean's pessimism is not unfounded; Huntington's disease, a fatal genetic condition that has no cure, runs in his family. His mother died from the disease when he was quite young, and he still remembers how much it hurt to lose her. He could take the test to see if he has the Huntington's gene, but he doesn't want to; he figures that if he starts to show symptoms, he'll just quietly move to Tierra del Fuego and commit suicide before he becomes a burden on his family and friends.
"Full of humorous and tender moments as well as subtle revelations, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME is a quietly powerful exploration of one man's journey back to himself."
But as Sean enters his early 40s --- past the likely age for Huntington's onset --- he's starting to wonder whether he's dodged the bullet of the disease and, if so, what that might mean for the rest of his life. Tired, burned out by human suffering, and with chronic back pain, Sean returns to his childhood home in fictional Belham, Massachusetts (also the setting for Juliette Fay's debut novel, SHELTER ME).
There he finds himself reconnecting with several figures from his past --- including his high school best friend (a former confirmed bachelor who now finds himself head over heels in love with his new wife, much to Sean's surprise and amusement), the girl who used to have an unrequited teenage crush on him, and Chrissy, the girl of his own teenage dreams, as gorgeous as ever and now conveniently separated from her own husband.
He also discovers that his family --- his stoic and distant aunt Vivian, his melodramatic sister Dierdre, and his orphaned nephew Kevin --- are undergoing many challenges of their own, challenges that were completely unknown to him while he was traveling the world. He's always told himself that his dedication to his career was a selfless way to spend his life. Is it possible, though, that by turning his back on his family, he's actually been pretty selfish all along?
Fay's novel certainly offers many opportunities for fruitful discussion about topics as varied as family loyalty, genetic destiny, responsibility, the duties of friendship and the strength of faith. It's also interesting to see how Fay writes from a male point of view, as well as how she continues to develop the town she first explored in SHELTER ME. Full of humorous and tender moments as well as subtle revelations, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME is a quietly powerful exploration of one man's journey back to himself.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on November 2, 2012
The Shortest Way Home