Will Allison's new novel, What You Have Left, traces the story of a broken family who succumb to personal weaknesses that inhibit them from reuniting, despite their intentions. The novel is divided into chapters that not only neglect a linear chronology, but also transcend the narrator, alternating points of view between characters using both first and third person and giving the reader a chance to understand every perspective of Allison's complex narrative web.
The character motives are basic enough: Holly's mother dies and her father Wylie—a well-meaning but weak and grief-stricken man—leaves when she is 7 years old, leading her to an alcohol-and-nicotine-abusing adulthood in which she acts irresponsibly as she continues to search for him. Lyle, her loving and hard-working significant other and a man of principle, bears Holly's complexities and rash behavior with disciplined patience, even as she drains away their dreams as a symptom of her addiction.
Despite its hard-bitten ingredients, What You Have Left manages to avoid a seriously depressing reaction from the reader, instead taking on a milder, melodramatic form. The story moves back and forth in time and perspective, making each character's story compelling (that is, except for the occasional unmotivated antagonism from Holly). Taking place in South Carolina and spanning the years between 1970 and 2007, this well-planned novel is a simple and intriguing read for this summer. While it won't throw you many surprises or challenges, Allison capably explores the enduring bonds that link family together, whether it is through hereditary cowardice, addiction or possibly acceptance as the characters struggle to settle for what they have left.
Will Allison reads at Durham's Regulator Bookshop 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 12. See www.regbook.com.