cover image Underburn


Bill Gaythwaite. Delphinium, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-953002-26-6

In Gaythwaite’s promising debut, middle-aged Frank Flynn moves with his younger boyfriend into his mother’s house after the couple’s rental home is destroyed in a fire. It’s not Frank’s first disaster; his life was already wrecked by an opioid addiction, though he’s sober now and works at a rehab. His actor mother, Iris, once had a career in Hollywood. She’s a formidable woman whose need to share her opinions “felt unstoppable, like a seizure.” She’s quick to educate Logan, Frank’s “unapologetically handsome” partner and a fledgling TV actor, about Bette Davis and Grace Kelly movies. After Iris receives news from her estranged sister, Celeste, that their mother has died in their Maine hometown, she returns after 40 years with Frank and Logan. The sisters, who “had never been close... as if they were cut and styled from different patterns,” have a prickly reunion—especially when they discuss the terms of their mother’s will. Stretches of the book meander, but Gaythwaite’s strength is in his subplots, whether describing Logan’s knotty history as an escort in Los Angeles or Frank’s battles with addiction, and the finale in Maine is worth sticking around for. The result is choppy but ultimately satisfying. (Nov.)