Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

Joe March is bipolar, and his mother is a murderer.shelter-in-place

Joe has a somewhat aimless life.  He’s twenty-one and tends bar in early 1990s Los Angeles.  His driven older sister Claire has moved to London and is financially successful.  The two, close in childhood, are at odds with each other in terms of motivation.

Joe’s parents live in Seattle, and life for them is fairly uneventful – until his mother beats a man to death with a hammer after seeing him abuse his wife and children.

Things change abruptly.  Joe’s dad moves from Seattle to the coastal town near the prison where his wife resides.  Joe, at once wanting to be there for his father but hesitant to deal with his family, takes a few detours getting there.  While on an extra long stop in Cannon Beach, Oregon, he meets Tess and is smitten by this edgy, beautiful woman.  She, however, finds Joe’s mood swings a challenge, and some time later, Joe travels alone to his father’s house.

Tess eventually meets up with Joe in White Pine where his dad lives, and they begin visiting Joe’s mother fairly frequently.  It turns out that certain local college students see Mrs. March as a cause célèbre for women’s issues, but Tess is more vehement than most – enough to exact her own brand of justice.

At the present time, a middle-aged Joe narrates the book.  Tess has left him, and Joe still lives in a house they built themselves after a successful time of running bars in Seattle.  The book flashbacks to his earlier self, when he was madly in love with Tess and his father was trying to hold things together.

Shelter In Place is a dreamlike tale of mental illness and love that takes a meandering pace.  Those wanting a quick driven plot line will probably need to look elsewhere.  Other readers wanting a more nontraditional narrative will find lots here to ponder, as the writing style is good and in keeping to someone experiencing depression and the slow destruction of a family.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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