After a disappointing start, it seems I’m back on a reading roll this month – What in God’s Name, Lamb, The Small Hours, The Last Banquet and now, Ethan Hauser’s The Measures Between Us, have all hit the spot. Set against the backdrop of a storm-hit small town just outside Boston, it opens with a prologue: Cynthia and Jack share a couple of beers and a joint with two guys working the rides at the fairground where they’ve spent the evening.
The couple have been together, on and off, since high school but Jack has been troubled by Cynthia’s unexplained absence. Cynthia’s father, the woodwork teacher at the local school, turns to an old pupil, now a psychologist, for help when his wife finds a frightening number of aspirins in Cynthia’s bedroom. Hearing this, Henry recommends a mental hospital where he believes Cynthia can find help. Hauser’s novel quietly explores the fragile intimacies and tangled relationships between the people around Cynthia, some known to each other, some not. Henry adores his pregnant wife but is sure that she will leave him one day, his behaviour sadly predictable when opportunity presents itself. Vince remembers Cynthia’s childhood with joy but Mary recalls the terror of parental anxiety, both beset with worry that they have betrayed her. Mary befriends a fellow churchgoer worried about his grandson whose mother has killed herself. Henry’s wife frets about her feelings for her unborn baby fleeing to a college friend in Texas. Over it all the New England sky lours, threatening to dump yet another deluge on Grover’s Crossing. So much sadness so eloquently expressed left me yearning for a flash of joy but none came, just a quiet acceptance for some and self punishment for others. The only jarring note was those louring skies – climate change or a rather unsubtle pathetic fallacy? A small criticism, however, of what is otherwise a compelling and memorable novel.
Time was when readers only got to hear about the Man Booker shortlist but now we’re treated to the longlist as well. I was absolutely delighted to see Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic on it – a very talented writer, much overlooked – but put out not to find Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life which should surely be garlanded in prizes.