“No one will love you more or be meaner to you than your kids,” says a character in Landslide, Susan Conley’s moving novel about a woman struggling to raise two teenage boys. Jillian Archer, a fisherman’s wife and documentary filmmaker, chronicles her daily battles with Sam and Charlie as her husband recovers from a boat explosion off the coast of Maine.
With the exception of Ann Tyler, I know of no other author who has written this well about parents trying to cope with children in their most difficult years. At sixteen, Sam is still shaken by the death of his best friend two years earlier. Charlie, a year older and more mature, nevertheless joins Sam in peppering their mother with unreasonable demands. Jillian, who thinks privately of them as “wolves,” is constantly distraught, trying to put up a brave front while her husband undergoes therapy in a distant hospital.
If that isn’t enough, the fishing business was going badly before Kit’s injury. The market value of their catches had gone down, forcing Kit to be away for months at a time. The boys miss him and take it out on Jillian.
With great empathy, Conley pulls us deep into Jillian’s tender heart as Sam constantly baits her while demanding to be loved. Jillian needs Kit as much as the boys do and fears the separation is causing cracks in their marriage. Yet, there is an unbreakable bond that holds the family together.
This is a true-to-life novel bound to resonate with anyone trying to survive parenthood. My only reason for limiting its rating to four stars is the profanity and other offensive language that tarnished the reading experience for me.