The Stanley family are shattered by the murder of fifteen year old Shep and the subsequent trial of Daniel Robbin but nothing can take the pain away. Then, on the day that would’ve been Shep’s twenty-fifth birthday, his mother Irene decides to reach out to the man who destroyed her life and forgives him. They correspond with each other for over a decade until the state finally arranges Daniel’s execution date. A distraught Irene begs the prison warden to allow her to visit Daniel and this becomes increasingly more important when Irene discovers a few family secrets.
Irene and Nate Stanley are living a quiet and contented life with their two children, Bliss and Shep, on their family farm in southern Illinois when Nate suddenly announces he’s been offered a job as a deputy sheriff in Oregon. Irene fights her husband. She does not want to uproot her family and has deep misgivings about the move. Nevertheless, the family leaves, and they are just settling into their life in Oregon’s high desert when the unthinkable happens. Fifteen-year-old Shep is shot and killed during an apparent robbery in their home. The murderer, a young mechanic with a history of assault, robbery, and drug-related offenses, is caught and sentenced to death.
Shep’s murder sends the Stanley family into a tailspin, with each member attempting to cope with the tragedy in his or her own way. Irene’s approach is to live, week after week, waiting for Daniel Robbin’s execution and the justice she feels she and her family deserve. Those weeks turn into months and then years. Ultimately, faced with a growing sense that Robbin’s death will not stop her pain, Irene takes the extraordinary and clandestine step of reaching out to her son’s killer. The two forge an unlikely connection that remains a secret from her family and friends.
Years later, Irene receives the notice that she had craved for so long—Daniel Robbin has stopped his appeals and will be executed within a month. This announcement shakes the very core of the Stanley family. Irene, it turns out, isn’t the only one with a shocking secret to hide. As the execution date nears, the Stanleys must face difficult truths and find a way to come to terms with the past.
I have to admit I guessed the reason behind the murder fairly early on as there were plenty of hints along the way. It didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the book, in fact it enhanced it, and my sympathy for certain characters grew, while lessening for others. The subject matter is very American and I’ve read reviews from other readers who were upset by the heavy handed politics threaded throughout. Not being American, I can’t say they bothered me all that much and I agreed with some of them.
The ending is inevitable and there is a definite sense of doom throughout, but anything else would’ve spoiled it. I cried at the end, something I don’t do that often. I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s books.