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The Edge of Maybe

Here’s an idea for a story. Take a beautiful life: happy marriage, comfortable home, and a smart and talented daughter, the three of you eating in a different restaurant every night. Ignore the husband’s loner party binges in the basement. Push aside the wife’s curiosity of her yoga teacher’s guiding hands on her hips. Everyone’s entitled to a little secret, except daughters. Don’t even suspect that daughters, locked in their rooms, are not doing homework. Now throw in a surprise visitor from the past and witness the beautiful life unravel. Next explore the aftermath from three points of view: wife, husband, daughter. Why not? All three are watching each other, and nobody’s really talking.

Here’s an idea for a story. Take a beautiful life: happy marriage, comfortable home, and a smart and talented daughter, the three of you eating in a different restaurant every night. Ignore the husband’s loner party binges in the basement. Push aside the wife’s curiosity of her yoga teacher’s guiding hands on her hips. Everyone’s entitled to a little secret, except daughters. Don’t even suspect that daughters, locked in their rooms, are not doing homework. Now throw in a surprise visitor from the past and witness the beautiful life unravel. Next explore the aftermath from three points of view: wife, husband, daughter. Why not? All three are watching each other, and nobody’s really talking.

Ericka Lutz is a debut novelist, but as an author of seven previous books, she is no debut writer. While The Edge of Maybe may be a page-turner—I read the book in two sittings—Lutz conjures both place and character on multiple levels so that the reader isn’t reading for plot but to learn the outcome of the family’s wellbeing. Will they survive? What choices will they ultimately make, and at what cost and to whom? Lutz makes us not only care about the fundamentals of hearth and home but causes us to worry about each of the family members, even as they commit the worst errors imaginable.

How does she do it? One way is by giving each character a unique perspective on the same events based on gender, age, and willingness, or not, to assume responsibility. Kira combines the drive of an independent woman plumbing her mid-life soul with the practical compassion of a dedicated wife and mother. Adam, father of not-exactly-sure-how-many, mourns the loss of his punk rocker days through addiction while folding laundry and helping with homework. Polly, “wearing a backpack too large for her thin, thirteen-year-old frame,” experiences growing pains she wants to brand on herself, permanently, for the world to see. Separately they navigate the rules of a family altered by a disruption that challenges their previously “perfect” existence.

The novel begins with dramatic action and takes the reader on a tumultuous ride with little exposition and even less description, yet we see how the characters struggle to feel, often in private, and we understand why. Lutz uses point of view like a zoom lens camera: dramatic action, zoom in, emotional response, zoom in, and finally, interior monologue:

Polly waited until it was finally quiet. It was just so lonely in their house now with all of the people who didn’t love each other in the house . . . The pin prick on the tip of her index finger, that beautiful bead of red blood and the taste in her mouth filling and satisfying that urge . . .

Kira and Adam try to communicate, often with ambivalence and by subverting the truth. In the following scene that takes place in bed with Adam, Kira broaches the topic of polyamory, hoping to get permission to sleep with her yoga teacher, while Adam attempts to seduce her:

“But I am thinking it’s probably not such a bad thing, for a mature couple, just as a principal if nothing else.” She wondered if she sounded as rational as she was trying to be.

Adam looked distracted. The corner of her mind noticed the faint musk of pot on his breath. Stoned again.

And, Adam’s voice, in clipped diction, stream-of-consciousness thinking about an old fling as he approaches her house for a spontaneous visit:

He wondered how different he looked; less hair, bigger belly. The lines around his eyes. They hadn’t aged so well . . . All those years of decrepit living. Kira still looked so great because of her yoga, the best-feeling skin in the world . . . oh hell. Don’t think about that.

Each passage shows how the use of interior monologue in the third-person narrator serves to pull the reader into the character’s psyche.

While a novel about a seemingly perfect family suppressing underlying angst could be scrutinized as “already been done,” Ericka Lutz’s The Edge of Maybe does it differently. She depicts realistic people with common issues, ones we feel we know intimately, and throws unusual curve balls. So the yoga teacher wants a lot more than just crazy sex. The indigent visitor pours the proverbial cold water on Polly’s privileged self-pity. And Adam gets sick enough of himself to do the right thing. Now what?

By distributing the weight of troubled family life three ways, giving a distinct perspective to each character, and keeping the reader in anticipation of the surprisingly convincing move, we’re shown that right and wrong, black and white, yes and no, sometimes boils down to a simple maybe—the place where humbled characters like ourselves teeter on the edge.

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