Outside the Lines is the story of Eden West, a professional chef, who searches for her mentally ill homeless father David whom she hasn’t seen since she was ten years old. Her parents divorced shortly after his suicide attempt and institutionalization. Eden has hit a plateau in her personal and professional lives: she’s about thirty years old, she’s not in a serious relationship, and she’d like to leave her corporate catering job to open her own restaurant. She decides she’d like to find her father in order to get some closure on their relationship so she can move forward in her life. Helping her along the way are Jack, the director of a local homeless shelter where Eden volunteers; her mother, a reluctant supporter who’s been going through cancer treatment; and her best friend Georgia, who happens to be, helpfully enough, a life coach. The story isn’t easy or pretty, much like Hatvany’s previous book, Best Kept Secret, but it is compelling.
The first thing that works about this novel is the plot. The book begins with Eden visiting the morgue to see if a particular corpse is her father’s. The stakes are high from the beginning of the story: Eden wants to see her father as an adult and find out why he left, why he never got in touch with her, and to find out how he’s coping with his mental illness and homelessness. Hatvany does a good job switching perspectives from Eden to David: she captures their voices at different ages and at different stages in David’s illness well. The narrative jumps between the present and the past, with the flashback sections leading up to David’s suicide attempt.
Secondly, Hatvany is very good at depicting family relationships, particularly Eden and her dad when she was a child. Also good is Eden’s relationship with her ailing mother. It’s hard to talk about and pursue the father whom her mother never talks about.
Finally, I have some minor quibbles with the novel. The character of Georgia is a bit flat: she feels like a sidekick in a movie more than a real character. I have the same quibble with Jack, Eden’s love interest. He’s a perfect, supportive partner with his own issues with his parents. Hatvany tries to flesh them out, but they don’t have much to do besides support Eden in this story. I think this is because the novel is about Eden’s all-consuming search for her father: it’s Eden’s story, not Georgia’s or Jack’s.
All in all, Outside the Lines is a good read that I found more satisfying than some memoirs I’ve read about growing up in dysfunctional families because I think novelists fill in more of a story than memoirists sometimes do.
Outside the Lines by Amy HatvanyAtria Books
Publication Date: February 7, 2012
Source: Publisher via NetGalley