Call it Crash with housewives and PTSD. Call it melodrama with politics and family dynamics mixed in. Call it whatever you want: Laura McBride delivers a stunning, compelling, soul-search-invoking debut about four disparate stories that collide in one explosive moment.
First, we meet Avis, a fiftyish woman who decides to rejuvenate her marriage just moments before her husband announces that he’s in love with a coworker. The social worker Roberta follows, who has a knack for seeking out the real hard cases and loving on them, motherly. Next up is the Albanian youth Bashkim, who lives with his grandparents, working in their ice cream-selling business and making the most of school. And finally, we meet Luis, the Mexican-American veteran of the war in Afghanistan, recuperating from wounds received.
For those of you who don’t get the Crash reference (the 2004 film starring Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Terrence Howard, etc. about a group of L.A. folks representing the diverse population, know that these stories, while diverse and apparently unrelated, will suddenly come together in a way that demands we sit up and pay attention. All of them have pain to work through, in their immediate circles and in their growing community, but they will not deal with that pain in the same way. Some of them will talk it out; some of them will live it out; some of them will fight it out.
There are three kinds of people in the book, not limited to the four ‘main’ characters: the kind who ignore their pain, the kind who take their pain out on others, the kind who give up, and the kind who… rise. Have you heard the Dwayne Wade commercial about getting knocked down seven times, and getting up eight? The heroes of our story today are those who keep being punched in the face by life, at their own fault and at the fault of someone else’s free will, and refuse to not get up.
To be honest, McBride’s book is not my normal cup of tea (it’s neither a thriller nor a violent murder mystery!) But I am better for having read a testimony to the pain we wrestle with, the way we respond, and beauty of what happens when humanity shows the image in which it was made.