Echoing the themes of his National Book Award nominee, The Feast of Love, Charles Baxter's latest novel examines the ways in which humanity is enriched by our capacity to both love and be loved. After graduating from Northwestern, Saul and Patsy Bernstein find themselves in Five Oaks, Michigan, "the rural middle of American nowhere," where Saul has landed a job as a history and journalism teacher, and Patsy a position at the local bank. They are so devoted to one another that it doesn't matter where they live, as long as they can make love and play Scrabble in their own little world.
But signs of discontent begin to haunt Saul. Being Jewish makes him feel foreign in Five Oaks, and the birth of his daughter, Emmy, leaves him unsure of his new role. Despite his wonderful marriage, he begins to feel a vague unhappiness, "like Schopenhauer arriving at the door with a big suitcase." When Saul is assigned to teach a remedial writing class, he encounters a difficult new student, 17-year-old Gordy Himmelman. Fatherless and abused at home, Gordy becomes obsessed with Saul and Patsy. He stands aimlessly in their front yard, staring at their house, "their sentry, their guard dog, their zombie, their boy."As problems with the boy escalate, Saul feels responsible for the tragic events that unfold. In one unforgettable scene, he finally gives way to his emotions while on a trip alone to New York City, riding back and forth on the subway from Grand Central to Times Square, his anonymous tears freely flowing.
Saul is forced to rethink the boundaries of his love what responsibilities come with it, and whom it should include, or exclude. Baxter uses two wonderfully drawn characters Saul's brother and mother, neither of whom has ever experienced unconditional love to help Saul redefine love and its place in his life, a life now big enough to include even the Gordy Himmelmans of the world.