Dennis Bock’s first two novels were about the fallout from various real wars: the Second World War in 2001’s The Ash Garden and the Spanish Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese War in 2006’s The Communist’s Daughter. The fallout in his latest, about two once-estranged brothers whose marriages fall apart at the same time, is of a more intimate nature, but feels no less powerful for being so.
The story is narrated retrospectively by Charlie, who after almost two decades in Spain has come home to Toronto, where he hopes to expand the chain of language schools he runs and get perspective on his foundering marriage. The move is bittersweet: Charlie’s tween daughter, Ava, still in Madrid with her mother, resents his going deeply. Returning also necessitates a reckoning with his older brother, Nate, to whom he’s barely spoken since Nate acted boorishly on a visit over a decade ago.
Now a successful lawyer, Nate is embroiled in a bitter divorce and custody battle over his two young sons. And though Charlie tries to assume the role of supportive brother and uncle, there are unsettling signs of the old intensity. Just a few months after Charlie arrives, Nate goes missing on a sailing trip in Florida.
Charlie is in his mid-forties, and the novel ably balances the build-up to Nate’s disappearance with a compelling meditation on that liminal age. In Toronto, Charlie’s encounter with an ex-flame sets the narrative looping back to the personal tragedy that first brought them together in their university days. Later, he starts dating, but finds the pleasure of it mitigated by his guilt over Ava (it nagged at me slightly that though Charlie’s wife and daughter are both Spanish they seem to speak without inflection, like North Americans).
Bock’s writing is what’s generally referred to as “transparent,” yet it has a propulsive quality that makes it less like a window and more like a windshield—a great deal goes rushing vividly by. Going Home Again consistently hits the sweet spot between understatement and intense readability, making its lo-fi unshowoffiness feel like a kind of flair.