The engrossing latest from McCorkle (Life After Life) meditates on the physical and emotional imprints that make up a life. Octogenarian couple Frank and Lil retire to Southern Pines, N. C., from the Boston area to be closer to their adult daughter, Becca, and for Frank, a retired professor who has been drifting with no sense of purpose, to explore his past.
Frank had lived there during his youth, after a 1943 train accident injured his mother and killed his father. Lil spends her time sorting through and composing journal entries to leave for her children, and through Lil’s voice, McCorkle finds an elegant mix of wistfulness and appreciation for life (“The premature blue dusk of a winter afternoon… the kind of light that makes you feel immortal”).
Meanwhile, Frank walks the train tracks near the accident site and frequently drops by his former home. The house is now occupied by Shelley, a single mother who lives with her young son, Harvey, and guards herself against outsiders. Early on, McCorkle makes clear that Shelley is hiding secrets in the house, and as Frank persists in his desire to tour the house, Shelly’s family’s betrayals and falsehoods bubble to the surface. Throughout, McCorkle weaves a powerful narrative web, with empathy for her characters and keen insight on their motivations. This is a gem.