After Lucy

Daniel Jones, Author
Daniel Jones, Author William Morrow & Company $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-688-17456-9
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-06-095942-5
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Young widower Porter Ellis, adrift after his beloved wife, Lucy, dies of breast cancer, trades in her old car for a dilapidated hippie van and takes his two children for a road trip across the country. This piquant debut novel starts off appropriately quiet and torpid, as the ambivalent, grief-numbed Porter flounders before taking the plunge into adventure. Once the Ellises leave their Pittsburgh home and get on the road, however, the story blazes with intensity. The kids, Kaylie, 12, and Ben, eight, are up for the ride, but complications ensue involving Lucy's doting, affluent parents, who are understandably over-protective of their grandchildren and consider Porter's jaunt irresponsible and dangerous. Indeed, Porter, a frustrated artist with a dead-end graphic design job, has no idea where he's going. He and the kids are headed perhaps for Rocky Mountain National Park, but they stop at an Indiana ramshackle ""RV resort and spa"" established by Deadheads, where the major activities are nude bathing, smoking pot and listening to the Grateful Dead. There, they befriend one of the residents, Delilah, a pregnant masseuse with a gentle touch. Trapped by a bad hangover, angry in-laws and a leaky transmission, Porter finally confronts his grief, his increasingly complex and intimate relationships with his children, and his future. Jones uses humor deftly (the family is plagued with problems involving a cell phone) and sensitively portrays the anger, guilt, frustration and possibilities of renewal that follow the death of a loved one. Meandering passages, including some static scenes at the commune, slow the narrative's pace, but the Ellis family's reclamation of their lives is stirring, with faithful, unaffected dialogue and real emotion. (Apr.)
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