cover image A Trick of Nature

A Trick of Nature

Suzanne Matson. W. W. Norton & Company, $23.95 (287pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04854-4

Matson's eloquent second novel (after The Hunger Moon) traces the subterranean discord laid bare by tragedy in the life of an ordinary family. The aptly named Greg Goodman is a high school teacher and football coach, busy with everyday life and the usual domestic crises with his preternaturally efficient wife, Patty, and their twin daughters. Melissa and Kiley are 15, beautiful and eager for adulthood. Greg and Patty think the apex of parental shock has arrived when they discover Kiley's birth control pills--but instead a cruel, inexplicable ""trick of nature"" causes the family to collapse. Timothy Phelps is on Greg's football team only because Greg convinced the boy's unemployed, gruff father that the game was safe. At a routine practice, Tim is struck by lightning and severely injured. Suspended from teaching for his bad judgment in resuming play before a rainstorm had cleared, Greg is overcome by guilt; confused, he winds up in bed with a flirtatious former classmate. He lies about the infidelity to Patty, but she finds out and kicks him out of the house. Devastated, Greg seeks out Tim's mother, Lorraine Morrison, a junkie, who abandoned Tim as a child. Her recklessness puts Greg and his family in danger and forces them all to reevaluate their lives. Describing the sustenance derived from family is Matson's m tier and she portrays it here in an especially tender, emotionally revealing way. She effortlessly shifts the narrative between Greg's point of view and Patty's, beautifully illuminating the inner lives of a family stubbornly held together by a persistent love. (Apr.)