Liberation isn't always freeing. When Gordon Loomis is released from prison after serving a 25-year murder sentence, he is almost overwhelmed by the awesome wonder of a free existence: "He could do whatever he felt like, go wherever he wanted, could feel it pulse in his fingertips, the soles of his feet, electrifying, the shock of living, of just being here." But as Mary McGarry Morris (author of Songs in Ordinary Time and Fiona Range) so compellingly makes clear in A Hole in the Universe, there is another side to that joyful coin for her inscrutable, conflicted protagonist. There is the anguish and guilt side, the side that immediately follows any pleasurable feeling Loomis may have because, the instant he feels it, he is also acutely aware of having robbed innocent people of their chance at those same pleasures. Doggedly insistent on returning to his boyhood home, Loomis must confront the ghosts of his parents, for whom light and laughter were extinguished the day he was taken, at age 18, handcuffed from the house. And he must also endure the wariness and suspicion of neighbors and townspeople whose memories of the brutal, senseless murder of a young woman and her unborn child are rekindled at the sound of his name or the sight of his face. Like Eliot's would-be hermit, Silas Marner, Loomis discovers that life cannot be lived in a vacuum. It comes knocking at his door in the form of Jada, the ever-hungry juvenile delinquent across the street; Jilly Cross, a real estate agent who stirs untapped reserves of lust and longing in him; and Delores, the ever-loyal friend who wants to be much more. When Loomis becomes the fall-guy for another heinous crime, his struggle to forgive himself becomes enmeshed with one for survival. Morris perhaps misses a chance to explore the dark humor of Loomis' situation, but she masterfully creates vivid, unpredictable characters and weaves a suspenseful tale. A Hole in the Universe is an artfully intriguing and heart-wrenching story of a man who, despite his best efforts to blend unobtrusively into the background, finds himself once again caught up in that messy, tangled web called life.

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