A family saga from second-novelist Coleman (The Volunteer, 1998)
ranges across 30 years and touches three coasts as it unfolds the
private dramas of a Protestant bishop and his wife and children.
The prevailing stereotype depicts preachers' children as holy
terrors with a capacity for messing themselves up, but Cage, Nick
and Harper Rutledge are nice, soft-spoken southern boys who
misbehave in all the most normal ways (drinking, girls) and don't
seem the least bit maimed for having spent most of their childhood
in parsonages. Their father, Franklin, is now the bishop of
Tennessee, but the boys grew up mostly in Louisiana, where he was
pastor of a number of churches. Later in life, however, a deep
shadow is cast across the family when Nick (then a student at
Berkeley) dies in a car crash on the Golden Gate Bridge. This sets
off a time bomb of grief in the two surviving boys, neither of them
able to return to normal life afterward. Harper gives up a
lucrative career on Wall Street, falls prey to drunkenness and
promiscuity, and eventually becomes a kind of itinerant carpenter
moving back and forth between Nantucket and Louisiana. Cage sinks
even farther, into the very depths of depression. While staying
with his brother in Nantucket, he makes the mistake of attacking a
police officer and is remanded by the court to a hospital for the
criminally insane. His family eventually manages to get him
released, but in the interim he has to live through the horrors of
the damned. He also begins receiving visits from his dead brother's
ghost. Is Cage truly insane? Or is there more to his father's
business than Cage had always thought? Healing is a slow, painful
process-but it's a good deal easier with some help from another
world. A fresh, original account of domestic love and loss that
offers interesting characters, brisk narrative and unusual
settings. (Kirkus Reviews)
Cage, Nick, and Harper appear to be the archetypal sons of the
ideal American family of the 1960's and 70's. The firstborn, Cage,
is the golden boy-star athlete and scholar, adventurous, handsome,
and preternaturally popular; Nick is the quiet, late-blooming
middle son, and Harper, 10 years younger, chases after his older
siblings, trying not to be left out. With the tragic death of Nick
in the 1980's, the break- down of the family begins. Cage's guilt
triggers incipient mental illness, and the next two decades find
him swinging between mania and depression, between grim
institutions and comebacks. Harper, who achieved early success on
Wall Street, is torn between wanting to help his brother and
seeking escape from his ghosts via an endless stream of woman.
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