This book plays with a premise that is deeply moving, and ought to strike a chord with many potential readers, and that is the way in which this novel sets up the situation where an old man who should be retired is instead working as a janitor at a hospital to try to keep one foot in front of each other to avoid a return to the bad ways that landed him in jail. Then, on what would appear to be an ordinary day, the author sets up a situation where this man gets the chance to reconnect with his first love, whose young relationship is detailed in a series of emotional flashbacks that leave Will Dillinger unable to function normally, and unable to resist lowering the wall that he has built up over time to prevent him from bonding with others, walls that started with childhood as a con artist and a charmer who used his gifts for evil and feels unworthy of grace.
There is, of course, a darker side to this memory of early love. While the specific scenarios of high school students fearing positive pregnancy tests and dealing with the stress of marriage and family before they have any sort of education or jobs is not something I am familiar with, I know of a situation that is not so unlike that of the premise of this novel that did not work out very well. In that particular case, a woman who was married to a decent and upright man got in touch with a widower who had been an old high school flame and ended up beginning an affair with him that split up the family and led to a lot of very dangerous complications. This is, therefore, not a premise that I view with equanimity, especially when the book flashes back to an unsuccessful marriage between Kate and an alcoholic man. This is the sort of story that a lot of people will be able to relate to, broken people seeking wholeness and love and some sort of redemption.
It would be unfair to spoil the various twists and turns of the story, but it is certainly a very convenient tale in many ways. We see Kate as a relatively innocent young woman whose life is changed by marriage to an alcoholic and who has to deal with frustrations and a vestigial sense of loyalty. We see Will struggling with loneliness and the belief that life has entirely passed him by. In wanting to root for love, we see a few surprises, and one where the meet cute at the end, the second chance at life, is not in fact as we would expect, but it is a surprise that is well-earned and a conclusion that ought to be satisfying for readers who want to see love and grace in action, as well as the corrosive effects of secrets and lies and misplaced guilt. Although this is not the sort of novel I usually read, this is a novel that will richly reward readers looking for a second chance at a first chance, which, honestly, includes most of us.