Homing Instincts by Karen Guzman (Winner of the Fiction Attic First Novel Contest, Fiction Attic Press 978-0-9911499-3-3)
21st Century Thirtysomething Family Life
Homing Instincts is aptly titled, for its protagonist, Seth Hinghnam, returns home seeking stability and a clear future, and through her main character Karen Guzman’s debut novel paints a vivid portrait of 21st century thirtysomethings family life in America. Seth Hingham, 35, in the last year his father dies of cancer, his longtime girlfriend left him, and he lost his job. Thus, he returns home to Connecticut, where he pieces together his life: finds a job, a new love interest named Jenna, and comes to grips with a high school auto accident that left a cousin with a limp and a childhood friend dead.
Seth’s father, the recently deceased Mr. Hingham, takes the stage via flashbacks and remembrances by his son. These flashbacks are handled deftly, never bogging down the narrative. The passage that best illustrates the sway his father had on Seth is at the end of chapter twenty-seven: “It occurred to me that what my father had done was negotiate the world without losing himself—in his marriage to a difficult woman, in the death of his White Mountains dream, in the stresses and worry his children occasionally brought and finally in the merciless illness that took him from us. My father—with my eyes closed, I could see his face. He had learned the steps to this delicate, treacherous dance. He had mastered the relentless give-and-take, the rising and falling and rising again to face himself and everyone else” (306).
“The difficult lady,” Seth’s mother, the recently widowed Millicent, is humorous and endearing. Her foret into animal rights, Native American history, and Third Reich atrocities in search of something to do with her life are presented in controlled scenes that do not lapse into slapstick. Her protesting of the deer hunt sponsored by the Department of Environment Protection, for which Seth works, allows mother and son to have a talk while she is dressed in a deer costume. In the end, Millicent settles on helping abandoned animals, creating “Millie’s Meadows” at the now husbandless and childless house.
Seth and his cousin Jasper survived a single car accident, when they ran off the road and into a tree avoiding a deer, but their passenger Henry Apgar flew into a tree and died at the hospital. At first, this narrative thread is secondary to Seth’s family and love story with Jenna, but after Jasper and his wife finally conceive and have a baby, he proposes that they establish a scholarship in Henry’s honor. Seth’s guilt for Henry’s death is resolved by Mrs. Apgar—Wendy, as she tells Seth and Jasper to call her when they visit to establish the criteria for the scholarship. The Apgars agree to nominate “the kindest” child in honor of Seth, who by inviting Henry for the ride, had shown their outcast son a kindness. Seth acknowledges that as he and Henry grew apart, but the Apgars will not allow him to continue feeling bad for their son’s death, insisting that he was kind to Henry and not responsible for his death.
Reading Homing Instincts, one finds excellent nature descriptions and strong depictions of Connecticut. The narrative handles multiple plotlines seamlessly and all of the characters are distinct in the reader’s mind. Homing Instincts is a strong first novel—entertaining and thought provoking—and portends more excellent writing from Guzman.
Review by Hardy Jones, Executive Editor