STARRED REVIEW
September 19, 2017

We’re all in this together

By Janet Peery
Review by

Abel Campbell is the patriarch of a mightily dysfunctional yet close-knit Midwestern family, “the sun around which their lesser planets circled, the god they hoped to please.”

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Abel Campbell is the patriarch of a mightily dysfunctional yet close-knit Midwestern family, “the sun around which their lesser planets circled, the god they hoped to please.”

A retired attorney and judge, Abel presides over his mild and devout wife, Hattie, and their grown children: Doro (successful college dean who stoically wears the mantle of oldest living child with a whiff of martyrdom), Jesse (farmer and alcoholic in recovery), Gideon (wanderer not in recovery), ClairBell (divorced mom with a secret addiction to painkillers) and Billy (underemployed masseuse with a not-so-secret addiction to anything he can ingest).

Abel and Hattie’s eldest son, Nick, died 40 years before after a lifetime of health issues, and it’s clear their youngest, Billy, is next. Diagnosed with AIDS in his 20s, Billy “endured his fate with a shifting array of denial, humility, gallows humor, despair and hope, but from time to time things could get dicey, for in addition to his precarious health he was an addict. Painkillers, black tar, methadone, drink—any substance at hand. Cough syrup, cigarettes, codeine, cocaine. On a lean day even candy.”

The story begins with a family dinner, the most Norman Rockwellian of scenes: All except Gideon are gathered around the Campbell table in Amicus, Kansas, to celebrate Abel’s birthday. When Billy passes out face-first in his serving of cake, it sets in motion a series of clumsy interventions and accusations that threaten to fracture the family.

A National Book Award finalist for The River Beyond the World, Janet Peery is a masterful, poetic storyteller with a sharp eye for details that draw the reader into any scene. The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs is a heartbreakingly spot-on portrait of the ways families support and enable each other. It’s also a timely depiction of the ravages of opioid addiction on average American families, in a time when our nation faces a worsening crisis.

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The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs

By Janet Peery
St. Martin's
ISBN 9781250125088

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