cover image The Story of a Million Years

The Story of a Million Years

David Huddle. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $23 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-395-96605-1

Already an accomplished writer of short fiction (Tenorman, Intimates, etc.), Huddle applies his story-writing skills to this shimmering debut novel, which traces the protracted, subtle fallout of an affair between 15-year-old Marcy Bunkleman and 41-year-old Robert Gordon, the husband of her mother's best friend. As the book opens, an adult Marcy recalls the relationship years after it has ended, in a voice so clear, so sure of itself, that readers may be jarred when in the second chapter Marcy's point of view is abandoned for that of her husband, Allen Crandall, who knows nothing of the affair--or indeed, of much else concerning his wife. Subsequent chapters unfold like short stories or brief character sketches, with first-person narratives from the perspectives of other people linked to Marcy: Robert, his wife, the Crandalls' daughter, their best friends from college. Huddle effortlessly creates seven distinct voices, inhabiting each character convincingly and completely. Few of these people have any knowledge of Marcy's secret past, leaving them free to meditate on their own disappointing loves, but the affair nevertheless becomes a kind of powerful black hole, exerting its gravitational pull on everyone's perception of Marcy whether they realize it or not. The shifting viewpoints can make for a fractured, glancing narrative--a significant death and a significant divorce both occur offstage, for instance--but the multiple voices also create surprising dimension and texture in a slender novel. Like a shattered mirror pieced painstakingly together, every shard captures a different angle. Huddle sets the narrative in Cleveland, where Marcy grows up, and in D. C., where she settles, but the setting is really incidental; the real action takes place internally. It is this inner terrain to which Huddle is most sensitive: the ways we reconcile or fail to reconcile ourselves to our moral lapses. His view of the human condition brims with wisdom, compassion and a rare grace. Agent, Bill Clegg. Author tour. (Sept.) FYI: The first chapter, ""Past My Future,"" appeared in Best American Short Stories 1996.