“Gone So Long” tells the story of a family, mainly Susan and her grandmother Lois, dealing with the lifelong impact of the murder of Susan’s mother/Lois’s daughter—Linda Dubie Ahearn. Linda was murdered by her own husband, Daniel Ahearn, in front of their then three year old daughter, Susan. Daniel served 15 years in prison for his crime.
The novel begins with Susan flashing back to a small diner in Massachusetts, across the street from the office of her father’s parole officer, where she is waiting to catch a glimpse of the father she has not seen in so many years. The flashback is a part of the book she has begun to write.
Daniel has been out of prison for 25 years and is dying from what appears to be prostate cancer. He decides it is time to find and see his daughter, so he writes her a rambling letter about the man he was and the man he is now. He then commences to travel cross country, from Massachusetts to Florida, to see Susan.
In the meantime, Susan, 43 years old and married, is struggling with her life and leaves her unbelievably loyal husband, Bobby, to temporarily stay with her grandmother, Lois, whom she calls Noni (except when she is upset with her). While staying with Noni, Susan continues working on her book and we learn about her struggles, in particular with men and with her grandmother. Susan’s mother, Linda, had been beautiful and Susan is described as even more beautiful than her mother. Her beauty has only brought her trouble.
Lois runs a very successful antiques store, but she is hard and harsh and has a difficult time with people. Marianne helps her run the store and apparently has the patience of Job because no matter how abusive Lois is, Marianne is always helpful and forgiving.
When Daniel’s letter finally reaches Susan, all hell breaks loose. He is on his way to Florida and Lois decides she is going to kill him. Although it sounds mildly amusing, there is not a hint of humor in this book, which details the ongoing inner turmoil of being the survivor of a murdered family member. At times Lois struggles with Susan “because seeing Susan at 43 was never having seen Linda at that age.” And Susan is perpetually frustrated with Lois because of Lois’s efforts to control her life, arising from her fear of someone doing her harm.
During Daniel’s interminable drive to Florida we are subjected to his innermost thoughts and excruciating details of his physical ailments. I believe we are supposed to feel some element of compassion for him as he has become something of an old man and has lived a life of humility and austerity since being released from prison (with a few moments of unbearable violence).
In the end, Daniel sees his daughter, who with mixed emotions throws him out of her house and everyone (maybe not Daniel) ultimately finds some peace.
There are aspects of this book which are very good—the writing and the concept of the story. That said, it is way too long, way too repetitive and some of the characters (Bobby and Marianne in particular), seem to have come out of a fairy tale. The novel does a good job of making the reader feel the long shadow of grief that follows the survivors day and night, darkening their days and haunting their nights, but loses some of its impact with its utter lack of subtlety. You can decide what you think when the novel comes out later this month. You can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.