Lippman explores a mythologized childhood in the woods that skirts Dickeyville, a suburb just inside Baltimore. Five children, Gwen, tomboy Mickey and the wild Halloran brothers, Sean, Tim and Gordon (Go-Go), spend their summers exploring, far exceeding the boundaries of their parents' permission to remain on the outskirts of the wilderness. The unity of five, Go-Go the youngest, following the older kids like a happy puppy, gradually evolves with the onset of adolescence, until a fateful summer where a ramshackle cottage is the scene of tragedy the night of a fearsome hurricane. Thirty-two years later, Go-Go is dead, either by accident or suicide, his descent into bad behavior long a familiar theme in the Halloran family. Go-Go's history is littered with secrets, the long habits of parents keeping silent about bad things infecting five friends who have secrets of their own. None of them have survived that final summer unscathed, brought together finally by the loss of the boy who raptly copied everything they did and hid the ugliest secret of them all.
The narrative voice dissects the lives of each, Gwen, Tim, Sean, Go-Go and Mickey (who has changed her name to McKey). But Lippman fleshes out these pivotal characters with their mothers and fathers, the family patterns, the facades of marriage and secrets passed from one generation to another. Often the pages feel weighted with regrets, of mistakes made and roads not taken: a beautiful, artistic mother who once dreamed of Paris and painting; a woman who trades on the artifice of her body even as her beauty fades to blowsy, changing men like costumes; fathers who act on behalf of their children, adding another layer of deceit to an already senseless tragedy; adolescents eager to explore the adult world and taste forbidden fruit, only later to be burdened with the consequences of their carelessness.
In a provocative and thoughtful novel, Lippman is not content to let events drive her story, delving relentlessly into personalities, motives, the collision of egos and the instinct for self-preservation. Guilt is reduced to nearly equal portions, a collective tragedy, a collective secret that begs for release. As expected, the truth provides a measure of relief, the breaking of silence the only palliative to now-adult lives filled with mistakes and opportunities. Humanity is, after all, a complicated thing. Lippman avoids the easy dismissal or the facile explanation. No, this is murkier territory, where only one body remains buried, secrets intact. Luan Gaines/2011.