Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Tiny Americans

"In the fall of 1978, our father brought home a stack of books from the library on activities to do with kids as an attempt to get himself sober." Terrance Thurber educates Jamie, Lewis and Connor about the outdoors--listening to trees with stethoscopes and making casts of animal tracks, trying to teach them self-sufficiency. He's also getting them away from their mother, whose haunting sadness has a "firm grip on her ankles." When Terrance abandons the family, the betrayal permeates their futures with insecurities and doubt.

In Tiny Americans, Devin Murphy (The Boat Runner) charts the lives of the Thurbers in short, chronological excerpts from 1978 to 2018. Jamie, who sought solace in childhood trysts in the local cemetery, questions her marriage when her military husband is catastrophically injured. Lewis escapes to the steadfast routine of the navy. Connor struggles to connect with his risk-taking son, who is so reminiscent of Connor and Lewis at that age, with their efforts to numb themselves through brutal games of childhood football.

As his kids try to fill their adult lives with love and stability following their tumultuous upbringing, Terrence gets his act together and tries to reconnect with weekly letters. Though permeated with melancholy, the narrative is buoyed by exquisite details and the sense that forgiveness may be possible even if redemption is out of reach. A collection of vignettes more than a novel, the time gaps sometimes work against the deep story arcs, but the whole is a satisfying chronicle of fraught family dynamics. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review