This slim novel, from the many effusive reviews' distilled plot summary and on through each station of the plot's serendipitous collisions, teetered precariously on the brink of the mawkish, the whimsical, the high-concept. I pictured a certain kind of Sundance film, until I got a few pages in, and then suddenly I was done, engrossed, entranced, delighted.
At every step Somerville gracefully floats above the big-booted possibilities to produce something far lighter on its feet. Part of his success stems from the sly, understated humor of much of the dialogue:
"Hello," he said loudly, as though he were calling to Matt across a great distance.
"Hello," Matt said, trying to give him an example of a better volume.
Somerville writes the kind of sentences that you read through, then halt, rewind, and rediscover something sly and neat in. There's not a lot of acrobatics to the prose, but the style is persistently, understatedly precise and lovely.
As are the characters. Again, certain details of the picaresque, almost Tom-Jonesian plot could, yanked from context and performance, seem egregiously "funny" or "sad." But Somerville resists big scenes or big epiphanies; his protagonists Matt and Renee grapple with wrenching emotions revealed far more through certain unexpected bits of behavior than grand interior monologues or exposition-heavy reveals.
At a concise 200 pages, the novel feels like it contains hundreds more, and I ended it wanting...