Monday, November 21, 2011

When You Went Away, by Michael Baron


The Story Plant, ISBN 9780181956800, October 2009

Gerry Rubato is struggling with the sudden, wholly unexpected death of his wife, raising their now four-month-old son by himself, and the aching absence of his much-loved daughter Tanya, seventeen years old, who ran away just a month before her baby brother Reese was born, and three months before her mother's death.

We meet Gerry and Reese as Gerry is returning to work, leaving his son for the entire work day for the first time since his wife Maureen's death. It's tough for him to do, but he knows it's necessary, and he hires the best baby-sitter available, and goes to work. Real life resumes for him.
Gerry works his way through the unsettling feelings of everyone worrying and treating him differently until they get used to him being back, and his boss's frustration and subsequent hostility when he won't leave his four-month-old son for a long weekend in order to be included--for the first time--in the company executives' annual retreat. The most unsettling experience of all, though, is developing a friendship with a woman newly added to his team.

Ally is smart, funny, attractive, and sympathetic to his loss without making him feel self-conscious. They chat, trade jokes, share ideas, and become friends. When they take the first steps toward moving their relationship outside the office though, Gerry panics. What kind of a man is he, interested in another woman just five months after his beloved wife of eighteen years has died?

He works through his panic, he and Ally move ahead, and he develops a new, stronger friendship with his late wife's sister Codie, even as he and Codie share their frustration at Codie's parents' refusal to come north and meet their new grandson. Running through the whole story is Gerry's concern for his missing daughter, who ran off with her twenty-year old boyfriend, dropped out of sight, and contacts him only by email sent through a remailer, to hide her location. Tanya doesn't know her mother is dead, because he has no way to get a message back to her. Gerry begins writing a journal, the things he wants to tell his daughter and can't.

This is a warm, sensitively told tale, written with grace and dignity. Gerry's emotions are real and human, and treated with respect. Everyone involved tries to do the right thing, which doesn't mean there is no conflict. There is plenty of conflict--the most important of which is within Gerry himself.

Highly recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher.