Long for This World

Following his 1998 debut collection of profoundly beautiful short stories, The Coast of Good Intentions, Michael Byers here fulfills the inevitable contractual agreement to publish a novel. And Long for This World has all the elements of a classic novel: a tormented hero grappling with a “ripped from the headlines” theme of medical ethics, a rich social context of Seattle dot-com new wealth, and a family focus of a wife suffering midlife crisis, a teenage son struggling with raging hormones, and a daughter trying to find her femininity.

Dr. Henry Moss, an expert on a rare congenital disease that causes premature aging in children, discovers that the brother of one of his patients has the same deadly genes but none of the symptoms—a discovery that could lead to the fountain-of-youth secret of fending off the aging process. Surrounded by new dot-com wealth but also genuinely concerned with trying to save the life of a dying teenage patient, Moss bypasses research protocol and secretly rushes ahead for a cure. In the meantime, his family is struggling with the common, but never ordinary, implications of their own aging. His wife, also a doctor, is concerned that she has not fulfilled her potential. His daughter, a six-foot basketball player, worries about becoming a woman. And his son wrestles with sexual coming-of-age.

What saves this book from plot predictability and novelistic carelessness is what made Byers’s earlier short stories so memorable—his human understanding, his love for his characters, and his brilliant poetic prose. Without either sweet sentimentality or cynical irony, Byers creates complex, believable human beings who, while neither perfect nor petulant, neither bitter not ignorant, are simply doing their best.