This book starts out with a bang. From the first sentences I knew I had to read it and I was not disappointed.
The first sentence is, "In the summer of 1991 my mother beat a man to death with a twenty-two ounce Estwing framing hammer and I fell in love with Tess Wolff." We soon learn that she killed him after seeing him abuse his child and wife in a parking lot and that she ends up in prison
The main character and narrator is Joe March who is also called Joey. Throughout the book, Joey struggles with mental illness. He appears to be bipolar and his mother may be too. Others see his depression and Tess has seen him so depressed that he appears to become catatonic. He however keeps insisting he is not depressed and not crazy. In addition, he has hallucinations although at one point he insists he knows they are not real. He thinks his mother may have the same hallucinations, but it is unclear if she did. Tess is the only person whom he has told about his hallucinations and he thinks she shelters him from them.
Joe is an unreliable narrator, perhaps due to his mental illness. At any rate, from the beginning he tells us not to believe everything he says and he occasionally tells us he makes up something.
Joe worked as a bartender when in college and he continued to work as one after graduating even though family members try to get him to get a job more fitting for a college graduate. He prefers to go to the town where his mother is imprisoned, because his father has moved there.
The characters are very well developed. I feel like I know each of them and cared about them. The plot does not just deal with mental illness; another major theme revolves around the abuse of women and how others deal with it. Mostly I enjoyed seeing how family members and friends dealt with Joe and how he dealt with them.
The book skips around in time, but that didn't bother me. I always seemed to know where it was in time. I suspect it did this to show us how Joey's mind worked from time to time. Joey's thoughts periodically were in phrases rather than sentences. Again, I thought this showed how his thinking was working at times.
I loved this book and it is one of my favorite books of the year, but it may not be appropriate for some people. It does have graphic sexual scenes and it also has violence. In addition, the characters use cuss words. If you don't want to read books containing such things, you probably shouldn't read it.