“I had a daughter and she died.” With those chilling words, Paul Harding’s new novel launches readers on a harrowing journey into the mind of a father wrecked with grief over the death of his teenage daughter in a bicycling accident.
Kate’s death quickly fractures Charlie Crosby’s already shaky marriage, and his wife flees the Massachusetts town that gives the novel its title to return to her family. Alone, Charlie spirals into an ever deeper despair, and Harding fully inhabits his psyche to paint a bleak portrait of nearly unremitting grief. Fueled by drugs and tortured by sleeplessness, Charlie spends his nights wandering through Enon’s cemetery, struggling to summon memories of his daughter—or as he says, “trying to follow her into the country of the dead in order to fetch her back.” Even nature, in the form of a hurricane, is congruent with Charlie’s profound sadness.
Relief comes intermittently through the judicious use of flashbacks, as Harding gently reveals Charlie’s relationship with Kate, his only child. We see them feeding birds from their hands and exploring the colorfully named landmarks of Enon, like Wild Man’s Meadow and Peters’s Pulpit. In these seemingly inconsequential moments, we understand the strength of the bond between father and daughter and the poignancy of a life ended violently and prematurely. Charlie realizes that Kate’s “short and happy life was the greatest joy in my own,” while understanding, paradoxically, that the same joy “was the measure and source of my grief.”
Charlie is the grandson of the main character of Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers, who makes a brief appearance here. The stories are, however, also connected by a shared appreciation for the culture and history of small New England towns and a fascination with the natural world, as well as Harding’s affinity for dense, yet lyrical, prose.
Enon is a novel that is chiseled out of profound darkness. But Harding’s sensitivity in telling this difficult story makes reading it a rewarding, if sometimes painful, experience.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Paul Harding for Enon.