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The Outer Cape
by Patrick Dacey (Henry Holt and Co., 285 pages)

12/07/17



 The Outer Cape is a story about a dysfunctional family where the parents struggle to figure out who they are and try to identify how their priorities have changed with age and illness. It is also about the couple’s two adult sons who, after receiving a fateful diagnosis, return to the family home on the Cape. 

This book is a complex story of parental vs. individual identity, examining the parent-child and parent-parent relationships. It’s also a story about desires, regrets and wasted chances. 
Irene and Robert Kelly have a successful contracting and building company on Cape Cod. In the ’70s they were the darlings of everyone. The wife is artistic and adored, the husband is a successful business owner. They had everything they ever wanted. But when you are at the top, it takes work to stay there. And if you can’t stay there, then you put all your energy into pretending you can. Cracks begin to form in the marriage from the stress of “always wanting more.” 
Then Irene and Robert decide to have children — seen as nothing more than acquiring yet another possession. 
Children have a way of making their demands come first. Creativity is stunted and spending time with anyone other than the children becomes difficult if not impossible. A previously strained marriage becomes even more strained. Poor choices are made, and values are compromised for profit and personal gratification. 
As the children get older, Irene and Robert also mature and their relationship fails, resulting in an inevitable divorce. 
The Kelly boys, Nathan and Anthony, are now grown. Nathan was always the bigger and stronger of the two sons. He was supposed to go to college on a football scholarship, but a last-minute injury changed his plans and he joined the military, where he fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that he’s out of the military he’s not much more than a drifter, living on mood-altering and pain meds. Nathan’s life has spiraled out of control. 
“Nathan needs to stamp out the fire in his head. 
Iraq, Afghanistan, the heat, the cold, it all runs together now. He never meant to be a lifer. He never quite felt he was in the right place. He was killing time waiting for the bigger purpose. Then he was killing people. Now he’s killing time again. But he gets a check from the government, free medical, no dental, now that he’s out.” 
Anthony is in finance. He’s well-off but is having relationship problems with his wife. Like his brother he is also a drifter in his life, not really knowing where to go or what to do. 
It seems that everyone has gone in their own direction in this deeply flawed family, that is until both sons come home to their childhood house on the Cape when they learn that their mother has a terminal brain tumor.
What follows is an examination of relationships, past secrets, priorities, and how to create a family from any pieces that might be left. 
This is not a story where you’re going to identify with or even like many of the characters. Everyone in the family is selfish and makes bad decision after bad decision. Instead this is a story where you get a chance to peek under the covers of other people’s complicated lives. You begin to understand why some of the characters act the way they do. You begin to have compassion for some pretty rotten people. 
This book is written from a male perspective and some of the language and sex scenes are graphic. If you’re looking for a feel-good, light beach story, this one isn’t it (despite the beautiful beach scene on the cover). Instead it’s a well-written piece on how families can slowly fall apart and how they can, if enough work is put into it, rebuild what remains into something new. 
At times painful to read, The Outer Cape is a smart and thought-provoking examination of family relationships, expectation, disappointments, regrets and ultimately perseverance of acceptance. B+ 
 
—Wendy E. N. Thomas 





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