Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Review: "Going Home Again" by Dennis Bock

As the owner of several language academies across the globe, Charlie Bellerose is a successful businessman, and he has the opportunity to travel all over the world. His personal life, however, isn't as successful at the current point. His recent separation from his wife motivated him to leave Madrid, where he has lived for nearly 20 years, and return to his native Toronto, where he plans to set up another school. This leaves him far away from his 12-year-old daughter, Ava, who is highly intelligent and resentful of Charlie's absence, which can't be ameliorated by a few visits back and forth and periodic conversations via Skype.

If there's a silver lining to his return to Toronto, it's that he's able to forge a new relationship with his older brother, Nate, to whom Charlie had always felt inferior, and his young nephews, Titus and Quinn. Nate is going through a vicious divorce, and is having trouble adjusting to the fact that his soon-to-be ex-wife has begun living with another man, a man with whom his sons feel comfortable.

At a book festival one weekend, Charlie runs into his first love, Holly, with whom he had a relationship during college. Holly is married and has children of her own, but Charlie can't help but think that she might be interested in starting over again with him. Seeing Holly makes Charlie long for his college days and the intensity of their tumultuous relationship, but it also reopens old wounds, as the two experienced a painful tragedy that affected them in different ways.

As he struggles with the feelings—good and bad—that Holly reignites, Charlie also must deal with his desire to be a good father to Ava. Can he be a presence in her life if he isn't living in Madrid? Can he live in Madrid if his wife is dating someone new? At the same time, Charlie must confront his brother's increasing anger toward his soon-to-be ex-wife, and the way his nephews are handling Nate's erratic behavior. It sparks memories of Charlie and Nate's relationship when they were younger, which is unsettling.

Can you ever really have all that you want, or must you make sacrifices in order to have the things that are most important to you? Can you stop someone you care about from destroying their life and those around them, or do you need to step back and allow them to make their own mistakes?

Dennis Bock does a great job delineating the challenges that come from love, family ties, parental obligations, and powerful memories of friendship in Going Home Again. While nothing truly earth-shattering or surprising happens in the book, it's a well-written and emotionally rich story, and I found myself completely engrossed in the plot very quickly.

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