When James Field’s teenage daughter Annie elopes with aimless, drug-dependent Cole Gilbertson, her father is devastated and outraged. Field has raised Annie in Duluth alone since she was an infant; he has read books on parenting and struggled with countless fears of failing as a parent, has exhausted himself trying to be protective without being overbearing, sensitive without being too permissive. Once bereft of Annie, who has escaped to Illinois, Field is desperate to get her back. He drives to the town where she is living with Gilbertson, begs her to return home with him, learns she is pregnant, and succeeds in alienating himself further from her.
Annie does not tell her father that her new life is miserably squalid; indeed, it takes her five years to admit this to herself, and when she does she returns to her father’s home with her four-year-old daughter Linda. For the next four years Field devotes himself almost totally to his daughter and granddaughter’s well-being. He is less prepared to deal with Annie’s second marriage and the arrival of gun-toting, psychotic Gilbertson than with his own complicity in Annie’s problems.
No paraphrase of this story can convey the beauty and the quiet, carefully nuanced and orchestrated power of its narrative. While his fluid prose style is economical, Bausch is profoundly generous as he moves from one point of view to another, every page textured with quotidian details and punctuated with hard-won emotional truths, and with nothing unessential to the story’s compelling progress. Bausch is a major American writer, who without simplifying lays bare complex human emotions and unravels them to expose--more than motivation--the arena where amoral animals struggle to be human.