Caelum Quirk is a teacher at Columbine High School, and his wife, Maureen, is the school nurse there. As the novel opens, they are struggling through a difficult time in their marriage and dealing with infidelity, bitterness, and resentment. Of course, the shooting in April 1999 ends any sense of normalcy and changes everything. Although Caelum was out of town at the time, Maureen was right in the middle of the shooting. She emerges with her life intact but deeply scarred emotionally.
All of that happens at the beginning of the 700-page novel. The rest of the novel follows Caelum and Maureen as they try to put their lives back together and deal with both the aftermath of the tragedy, as well as all the issues they had before the shooting. The couple moves out to the Quirk family farm in Connecticut, to try to help Maureen heal and tie up some loose ends in Caelum’s family. From there, the action moves back and forth from the present into Caelum’s childhood and the events that shaped him and into the distant paths of Caelum’s ancestors who once lived on the farm and were instrumental in starting the women’s prison next door.
If that sounds far ranging, well, it is. This is something of an epic, and the Columbine shooting is not really the main focus of the novel. It’s more of what Lamb specializes in – digging deeply into a character, finding out what makes him the way he is, how events in his life have shaped him, and how he will move forward. I felt the novel was probably a bit too long, as was Lamb’s other epic, I Know This Much Is True, but I enjoyed it and didn’t have trouble finishing it. It’s a fascinating look at human nature, and the in-depth research Lamb did on the Columbine shooting was captivating. He intricately weaves real-life events with the lives of his fictional characters, and the result is an engrossing read that stays with you long after you close the book.