Lost souls searching for happiness come up short in this somber first novel by Chaon, whose short-story collection Among’ the Missing was a 2001 National Book Award finalist. A series of seemingly unrelated events—a boy attacked by the family dog, a vanished child, a teen languishing in a home for unwed mothers and a young man lured to a life of drugs—are woven into a tapestry of dashed hopes.
The first half of the novel thrums with the mystery of how these people became who they are and who they are to each other. Jonah, the boy mauled by his dog, is the link between the characters. Disfigured, he lives in relative isolation until, grown and desperate for human contact, he decides to reclaim the missing pieces of his life. But as his connections to the others become clear, we see that the tenuous threads binding these near-strangers are not strong enough to save them.
This is by no means a feel-good read, but neither is it gratuitously tragic. Instead, Chaon deftly reveals the quiet suffering of ordinary people in a way that can be uncomfortably realistic but is always compelling.