I've marked this as memoirs-autobiography on my shelves, because that's what this reads like. Yes, it's fictional - the town of Empire Ridge doesn't exist - but bear with me for a minute.
This is Hank Fitzpatrick's story. It's the story of his life from the mid-90s until about 2009, getting married, having kids, having a dog, dealing with figuring out himself and those around him, being oblivious to what's right in front of his face, his suppressed anger, his emotional baggage - it's all there in the pages of this book.
Hank is crass in some parts, and he isn't the most easiest character to like, because, let's face it, he's a guy and thus does some stupid stuff, but he's also honest and in your face when he stands up for something he believes in. He loves his wife - that much is always clear. He doesn't always like her, but that is life, and it happens in the best of marriages.
Realism - this book has it. There are moments where I was reminded of my own marriage, my own growing up, and while I'm not male and don't always have the same perspective, I was able to understand Hank's rationale, and also Beth's reactions to his actions.
There are lessons in this book, and I've highlighted a few of them in my e-copy, and there is immense character growth throughout. There are poignant moments, where Hank realizes something profound, and they serve to make him grow. I absolutely loved this, and it was the perfect follow-up to Exotic Music of the Belly Dancer. This is still the same guy, just a little older, with more responsibility. I quite liked Hank. And Beth. And Hatch and Jake.
This book is about family - the one you are born into, and the one you make for yourself. It's about the baggage each one of you brings into the marriage, and about finding a way to love your SO's idiosyncrasies. It's about building a life for yourself and your wife and children, about making choices and standing by them, about forgiving and about not forgiving at all.
The only thing that bothered me is that Brian Sweany chose to more or less gloss over the emotional repercussions of the sexual abuse, but those are emotions that Hank seems to have suppressed for the most part, and that there is only well-deserved rage. There is a moment in this book where Hank sees the truth in the face of lies, and he stands by what he knows to be true.
And there's a moment when Hank needs to learn a different truth, and has to face the fact that his father was not perfect. And that he doesn't have to be perfect either.
The writing is engaging, and the first person POV gives that fly on the wall perspective that draws the reader right in. The editing in this book was, in my humble estimation, also better than the first book.
It feels as if Brian Sweany has found his voice, his real voice, and that it was perhaps a little harder for him to put himself back into the mindset of the teenager he once was, and easier to speak with the voice of the grown man he now is. Even if that grown man still has a lot of teenager in him. It's apparent in how he talks, as Hank, about the early years with Beth, and how their relationship grows in the later years in this book. It also appears as if Beth finds her stride somewhere in her late twenties and sees her husband for who he is, not for who she wanted him to be, something that I would imagine happens to a lot of couples.
I said earlier that this reads more or less like an autobiography. I don't know Mr. Sweany personally, so whether his book has anything much in common with his real life is pure conjecture on my part.
This was a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.