Wow. There are so many things I love about this book. There's careful prose like this:
Ry's grandfather, Lloyd, took his first cup of coffee out onto the screened porch, sat down on a glider, and waited in the dark for the birds to start chirping. Between him and the sun, there was a thin bit of earth and a thick wall of trees, still black with night. As he sipped, the first rays of the sun found tiny gaps to poke through. Tomorrow he would pour the pot of coffee into a thermos to bring out onto the porch so he didn't have to go back inside.
A stray moonbeam found the way through a window and fell in a faint square on the faded carpet, leaving the darkness around it blacker and more velvety.
or, a bit more representatively, the novel's opening:
Wait a minute.
Was the -- had the train just moved?
Ry turned his head to look at it straight on, but it sat on the tracks, as still as the lumpy brown hill he was climbing. As still as the grass that baked in gentle swells as far as he could see and the air in the empty blue sky.
I love the novel's structure. It sets up expectations and then delivers something slightly different. (It made me think of the "There once was a farmer who took a young miss in back of the barn where he gave her a ... lecture" song, although it's nothing like as gimmicky or obvious.) I love that it repeatedly made me laugh out loud in delighted surprise, even if the delightful surprise was ratcheting the novel's tension to an almost uncomfortable degree. I love that I had absolutely no idea, even in the last handful of chapters, if this book sided with the "everything turns out basically ok," "okay with a dollop of tragedy," or "dude, major bummer!" camp. I love the authorial voice, and especially how it assumes the reader is smart and paying attention, and often leaves conclusions for the reader to draw.
Things I'm less sure about: Perkins is pretty deliberately playing with the elasticity of the reader's credibility, I think, and somewhere near the end I struggled to keep mine from snapping. And the more I think about it, the more I think the dénoument is tonally completely appropriate, that is, that it should
be a little unsatisfying. But that unsatisfyingness is only satisfying in retrospect.
Regardless this gets 5 stars from me even if it blows my credibility to give anything 5 stars, and I strongly suspect I will purchase multiple copies of this novel in my lifetime because I'm going to want to lend it to people who will want to lend it to people, and so on. And I really won't mind.
Another hat-tip to Janet for the recommendation