The toll of addiction and the burden it inflicts on families dealing with that curse are the difficult subjects of Lindsay Hunter’s bleak second novel, Eat Only When You’re Hungry.
When Greg Reinart’s son, GJ, goes missing for three weeks, the retired accountant wearily crams himself into a compact RV and drives from his West Virginia home to Florida to search for the 30-year-old, who’s cycled through multiple visits to rehab and failed efforts at recovery most of his adult life. In Florida, Greg also must deal with a mountain of unfinished business remaining after his long-ago divorce from GJ’s mother, Marie. “Parents of the Lost, a species all their own,” is how Greg thinks of himself and his ex-wife.
As Hunter reveals through Greg’s eyes, the damage wreaked by GJ’s drug use has infected his father’s life. Greg’s fondness for junk food gradually has turned him into a “lump with eyes,” and his own drinking has become problematic. In his despair he fantasizes about putting his arms around his son, bitterly envisioning them at “Rock bottom, but together.”
Mirroring the darkness of the novel, Hunter’s Florida is not a place of gleaming beaches and stately palm trees. Instead, it’s world of strip malls and strip clubs, a twilight land through which Greg wanders, following a trail of increasingly faint clues to GJ’s whereabouts as his own demons pursue him. “Why did we choose each other? Why did we choose this life?” Marie asks as she and Greg pick over the wreckage of their former life.
Eat Only When You’re Hungry is far from a comforting read. Instead, it’s a starkly realistic portrait of a family in crisis, a journey through purgatory with precious few road signs to help the travelers on their way.