Marissa is pregnant, and what she wants more than anything is the cradle she was rocked in as child. She can't ask her mother for it — she abandoned the family when Marissa was a teen, inexplicably taking the cradle with her. So Marissa asks her husband, Matt, to find it.
"I don't want to know how you do it or where she is," she tells him. "But you can, if you look hard enough. You can find anything. You're Matt."
Maybe it's because he grew up as a foster child and understands wanting to reclaim something from an absent parent, or maybe he just loves Marissa. Matt gets in his truck and goes looking.
Years later, another couple near Chicago watches their 19-year-old son, Adam, prepare to deploy to Iraq. Bill is stoic, Renee is not. She wants her son to change his mind. "You will die in that godforsaken place, Adam. I am begging you. You think you'll be fine, but I see very clearly the point you're trying to make and it's not worth it," she says.
These two story lines — one of young parents-to-be, another of older parents saying goodbye — unfold in tandem in The Cradle, and part of the pleasure is deducing the connections between the stories through a surprising number of plot twists. The structure allows Patrick Somerville to create a short novel with the sweep and depth of a much longer work (and this, his first novel, no less).
Though Marissa sets the task of finding the cradle, Matt is the novel's heart, a sane and gentle man trying to assimilate an unhappy past into a more hopeful future. His story reflects the broader concerns of The Cradle: how children make it through the traumas of childhood, how painful parenthood can be, and how some adults care for their children while others choose not to. It's familiar territory, but when done carefully and without cliche, as it is here, it's well worth a reader's time and great stuff for book groups. The Cradle is a novel that comforts.
Angie Drobnic Holan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8573.