Taylor Knox, middle manager for a small pharmaceutical company in Annapolis, MD, quickly finds that an imminent takeover by drug-industry giant Revell is going to affect more than his job. Years ago, as a youth coming up from a hardscrabble existence in St. Augustine, Florida, Taylor found employment with the Revell family on their yacht --- and fell in love with their beautiful, headstrong daughter Kirra.
As the novel opens and all throughout its pages, Bunn weaves in Taylor's surfing adventures. While I occasionally found my eyes rolling back in my head at some of the detailed descriptions of waves and surfer moves, this is certainly stuff I haven't read about before --- it gives Bunn a great way to take Taylor from the Old City of St. Augustine to the rough Oban coast in Scotland on down to French Basque seaside territory. More on that in a moment.
But back to Taylor and the Revell family. Just as he realizes that the takeover seems a little funny, Kirra's sister Amanda contacts him and tells him that she wants him to find her sister, who has gone missing. Since the Revells --- particularly father Jack, but Amanda as well --- loathe Taylor, he is suspicious. However, Amanda pulls him in by saying that Kirra asked for him. Before you can say "setup," Taylor is off to Florida and his boyhood home. Once there, memories threaten to overwhelm him, and Ada Folley, the multiracial neighbor who raised him in many ways, has taken him to task for a past deed that broke Kirra's heart.
However, Taylor's memories are nowhere near as threatening as the goons who overpower him and leave him to die in the city's underground tunnels. Of course we know that Taylor, child of the St. Augustine streets, will make it out, but it costs him a great deal physically to do so, and that's not his last brush with injury. However, he does get a lead that Kirra is or was in Scotland, and so he flies, rides and hikes his way out to the tiny island of Iona, home of an ancient monastery known as a "thin place": that is, the bond between humanity and divinity is very thin there.
As I write this, my own pastor and his wife are planning their July sabbatical trip to Iona because they want to deepen their faith journey together --- that's how powerful a place this is, and so it is fitting that Bunn chooses Iona as the site of Taylor's slow spiritual awakening (begun years before by Ada but never achieved as Taylor made his way in the world).
Taylor's "pilgrim's progress" might seem too slick and quick for some, but for others who have said their own "few words" (as Bunn describes Taylor on a seaside promontory giving his life over to Jesus) it will be quite believable. Woven throughout is the story of Taylor's communications with his secretary, Allison, a single mother who is trying to hold things together at home while helping Taylor stay one step ahead of Amanda Revell and company. The rest of the novel moves quickly from Scotland to Basqueland, but the ending holds some surprising --- and sweet --- results.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on November 13, 2011