cover image Sophomores


Sean Desmond. Putnam, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-525-54268-1

Everyone in Desmond’s so-so second novel (after Adam’s Fall) is canny enough, but still has an awful lot to learn. The story is told from the perspective of three members of the Malone family, which moves from the Bronx to Dallas, Tex., in the late 1980s. Dan, a sophomore at a Catholic boys school, finds inspiration from an English teacher, Mr. Oglesby, who encourages him to write, while his parents’ lives spiral out of control. Dan’s dad, Pat, an alcoholic American Airlines exec who’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, makes an ironic miscalculation amid a recession and ends up losing his job. Dan’s mother, Anne, a conflicted Catholic who becomes more unsettled every day by her husband’s dwindling health, is chosen to sit on a jury for the trial of a popular evangelical preacher accused of strangling his wife—Anne had been hoping to vindicate “some defeated housewife who turned on her unfeeling husband and child.” Meanwhile, book-smart Dan travels through a keenly-realized cultural wasteland of Dallas with a group of underachievers from one bland subdivision to the next, until Oglesby challenges him to find focus. While the denouement borders on histrionic, leaving Dan further adrift from his struggling parents, Desmond is good at conveying suburban angst. Those who love coming-of-age stories may want to give this a look, even if it doesn’t quite stand out. (Jan.)