April 8, 1985. Hannah Legare is 11 years old on that day, a date that will preoccupy her for the rest of her life. Buzz, Hannah's father, took the boat out that day and never returned. Still occupied by the family dog, the boat was found floating in the river. Buzz's body was never discovered, and Hannah, now an adult, still believes he is alive somewhere. The mysteries surrounding his disappearance nibble away at her. Why would he go fishing alone on a Monday at twilight? How could he fall out of a boat on a calm spring evening? Why did no one see him? How could a man fall from a boat while his dog remained in it?
Hannah sees her father frequently, although it is in bits and pieces. For example, a college professor had his nose. She frequently double-takes when she glimpses strangers with his tall frame. Now living in San Francisco, far from her hometown of Charleston, Hannah drinks way too much and is unfaithful to her husband, Jon. After forgiving his wife multiple times, Jon has finally turned the tables on her, hooking up with another woman and telling Hannah he can't take her craziness any more.
When Hannah, quite drunk, attempts to climb the three stories to their apartment (she knows Jon changed the locks on the door), she falls. She not only breaks ribs, she also cracks her skull by impaling it on a nail. Jon appears at the hospital to inform her that she can either go to rehab or back to stay with her mother, Daisy, and stepfather, DeWitt, in their Charleston mansion. It's the last place in the world Hannah wants to be --- the place she escaped from a decade-and-a-half ago --- but she has no choice.
In Charleston, Hannah visits her first love's hippieish mother, Virginia. She can't resist seeing the object of her early devotion, even though Warren has not only become an Episcopal minister but has married the air-headed blonde she once feared he might find attractive. The description of her first glimpse of her old boyfriend is poignant as she describes his weight gain, his hairy neck and wrists, and his bland blue oxford shirt. Seeing Warren again uncovers memories that Hannah both embraces and fears, as her story is recounted, past and present.
Hannah spends time via email checking on the staff of her and Jon's company, SweetJane, which sells luxury sex toys. However, she is mostly apathetic about their business, preferring to concentrate on trying to unravel the mysterious disappearance of her father so long ago. Her persistent belief that Buzz vanished rather than died has estranged her in many ways from the rest of her family --- a rupture that feels permanent.
She visits her brother Palmer, who guards a secret about the day his father didn't return home. The secret involves Buzz's promise to attend Palmer's soccer game. Palmer suspects he was to blame for his father's fate, and that assumed guilt impacts his love life. Meanwhile, Hannah can't help digging around for clues to the past. If she solves the mystery of her father, maybe she can also unravel the puzzle of her own present life.
Fragile, flawed Hannah's story is one of family, love, faith and redemption. The depictions of relationships (those precariously balanced connections) are spot-on --- in turn darkly funny, disturbing and moving. Readers can expect to be utterly absorbed by this satisfying, emotionally complex page-turner.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 7, 2011
Men and Dogs