Reviewed by Robert Goodman.
By Alan Rossi, Picador, $29.99.
The set up for Alan Rossi’s debut novel Mountain Road, Late at Night, is as simple as it is devastating. Nicholas and April, who live in a small mountain community in the Blue Ridge Mountains have died in a car accident. They have left behind four year old Jack. Nicholas’s brother Nathaniel and his wife Stefanie have come to deal with the couple’s affairs and to be with Jack. Despite not wanting to have children, the pair slowly begin the transition to thinking of themselves as parents of the young, traumatised boy. Until April’s mother Tammy calls them and tells them that she will be coming to take Jack home with her. Nathaniel calls in his father, a lawyer, for advice, while his mother continues to observe a vow of silence that she took when Nicholas died. This outline is both the set up for the book but also the entirety of the plot.
The book is divided into four narratives. While they springboard from the same event they treat that event very differently. In the first, Nathaniel is trying to come to terms with his brother’s death and the fact that he will now effectively be a father. Nathaniel is a struggling chef, trying to earn enough money to start his own, vegan restaurant. This understanding is thrown into disarray when he learns of the imminent arrival of his mother-in-law who claims, without any proof, that her daughter insisted that she be the one to take care of Jack in the case of a tragedy like this. The next two narratives focus on Nathaniel’s mother Katherine, who it turns out, has been having an affair with a much younger colleague and does not know how to cope with her son’s death, and Tammy, April’s mother who has the idea that she can atone for her troubled relationship with her daughter by raising her grandson. The final, heartbreaking section is told from Nicholas’s point of view, following the accident as he tries to piece together and understand the circumstances that led him there.
Mountain Road, Late at Night is a book steeped in pathos, melancholy and regret. Rossi uses his set-up to revolve around his characters, to dig deep into their motivations, relationships, expectations and ideals and in doing so exposes some of the underpinnings of modern America. Rossi’s almost forensic interrogation of these lives provides plenty to chew on but no easy answers or resolutions for either the characters themselves or for the reader.
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