Away from Everywhere is the first novel from Newfoundland author Chad Pelley. The story begins with a bang — a man and a woman are in a serious car accident. She dies; he lives. Grief is complicated by guilt: she was his brother’s wife, and they were having an affair — an affair that only comes to light after the accident. Owen, the survivor, a writer and recovering alcoholic, retreats into a world of grief and memory as he reads through his lover Hannah’s journals and recalls the scenes from his life that led him to this tragic moment. How did he, growing up so close to his twin brother, his fellow survivor of a family that’s had its own share of tragedies, come to the point where he could commit such an unimaginable betrayal?
Away from Everywhere is the story of the life that led to the accident, and of what happens afterwards. At its heart is the relationship between twins Owen and Alex, who survive both their father’s mental illness and their mother’s violent death. They are close, but their lives are set on trajectories that will send them in different directions. There are wonderful details in this novel, and vividly realized scenes, some of which linger with me long after finishing the story. The story is intricate enough to pull the reader forward, wanting to know how it will all be resolved, even while dreading that this can’t end well.
There are weaknesses here as well as strengths: I felt that the characterization was shallow in places and that Owen, Alex, and Hannah were all caricatures to some degree. Hannah is the unhappy wife, paralyzed in a life she doesn’t like but can’t change except by cheating on her husband; Owen is the doomed but dedicated artist, a man almost too good for this world — despite the fact that we’re first introduced to him as a man who slept with his brother’s wife, he still manages to come off as noble and idealistic. Alex is the weakest of the three: he progresses from being a potentially interesting character to an almost cardboard cutout villain. Dialogue that’s occasionally stilted and a tendency to tell rather than showing adds to this frustrating feeling that the characters lack depth — or rather, that the glimpses of depth and complexity we do see in them are not developed as fully as they could have been.
Despite these weaknesses — or rather, hints of potential that could have been more fully developed — the novel paints a compelling picture of mental illness, family dysfunction, isolation, grief and guilt. The ending is powerful, and presented so effectively that the terrible realization of what’s actually happening dawns gradually but inescapably on the reader. Chad Pelley’s work is intriguing, and it will be interesting to see what his next project brings.