The Matter with Morris

David Bergen. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-58243-759-0

Morris Schutt is a 51-year-old, syndicated columnist who really wants to be Jewish, an obsession that his estranged wife dismisses as a "secret wish for tenderness and affection." Since his son's death in Afghanistan, Morris's life has been quickly unraveling. Everything Morris once loved suddenly falls away—his wife kicks him out of the house, his two daughters treat him like a stranger, his boss puts him on a hiatus following a disastrous column—tough challenges for someone who once believed in certainty. Morris retreats from life, canceling his cell phone, email, and cable and cashing out his investments. He holds on to the edge tightly and eventually learns how far family bonds can stretch and still hold. It's a challenge to create a compelling story and populate the pages with liberal references from many esteemed writers and thinkers, from Saul Bellow to Cicero, but Bergen (The Time in Between) does it with great equanimity, humor, and sensitivity. (Sept.)