Matt’s mother has just died and his father is seeking solace in the drinking habit he abandoned 20 years ago. He knows he must supplement his studies with a job and when he is offered work at Mr Ray’s funeral parlour he realises that this may be a way both to make money and to try to come to terms with the grief which threatens to overwhelm him. If he can attend funerals and watch families grieving he might be able to understand that others suffer as he does and so he is not alone.
This is a story rich in characters and their secrets. Mr Ray has his ‘pain vault’, a cellar devoted to his dead wife and to his career as an athlete cut short by a serious injury. Lovey-who Matt begins a relationship with- works at a fast-food restaurant, runs a shelter for the homeless but her mother was murdered when she was very young. Matt’s best friend Chris is, by contrast, uncomplicated and supportive, relishing food and friendship in equal measure.
The novel is set in Brooklyn and some readers might find difficulty with the vernacular which the younger characters use – though it lends an extra layer of authenticity to the story. The ending of the book is tied up a little too neatly: Matt realises that he and Chris heard Lovey’s mother being murdered by her abusive partner when, as children, they both slept at Chris’s apartment; at the Christmas dinner for the homeless he meets the man who inflicted the injury which ended Mr. Ray’s career.
However, this novel is an unflinching portrayal of guilt on several levels and Reynolds has tackled a difficult subject with energy and conviction.