Ash Wednesday, Ethan Hawke’s sophomore novel, begins with the breakup of army sergeant Jimmy Heartsock and nurse Christy Walker after dating over eighteen months. They are both young and Christy is pregnant with Jimmy’s child but does not tell him right away, trying instead to take their breakup as a sign that she needs to bring order back into her life. She takes a bus from Albany, New York, but does not get far before Jimmy, after realizing what a mistake he made, catches up to her. When he learns that Christy is pregnant, that convinces him that he should not have pushed her away and they set out as an engaged couple to make amends with themselves and their respective families in Ohio and Texas.
Their struggles along the way and the on-again, off-again relationship is realistically portrayed, and Hawke seems to be saying that this is typical for a lot of modern people today. The fact that they keep working at their relationship is what takes their love to the next level of maturity. Love is work and love is hard, but Hawke is saying that it is both okay and expected.
Ash Wednesday is a day of redemption both in Christianity and for the couple, who are trying to make a life together no matter what the costs. The scene of the streets in New Orleans being washed clean at midnight after Mardi Gras is both physical and spiritual: their old life is ended; their new life is beginning. As the characters mature, the reader is glad that they are growing up, even if there is a little backsliding here and there. They act like real people, and that is about the greatest compliment for which an author can hope.