cover image Alone


David Small. W. W. Norton & Company, $19.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02991-8

Luminous, intense and searingly honest, Small's ( Almost Famous ) novel focuses on unacknowledged alcoholic and insomniac Earl Dimes, Pennsylvania management consultant and aspiring novelist, who concedes that he has made a mess of his life. Years ago, after his single act of infidelity, Earl's wife left him. When the story begins, he has just heard that their teenage son has died after setting himself on fire. This shattering news leads Earl to reassess his failures, a process that will gradually take him from emotional numbness to awareness as he realizes that his lifelong pattern has been to push people away while creating the cloistered emotional safety that he both cherishes and despises. Earl's reflections, his affair with a woman half his age and a subplot involving threats from a black employee whom Earl fired are rendered in memorable, dramatic scenes; sometimes, however, the transitions between them can be jarring. Although Small can invest moments of Earl's unsought enlightenment with a true comic flair, he imbues the imbroglio of Earl's life with a sadness that seeps into the reader's mind. (June)