Sam Madison’s beautiful wife, Sandrine, is dead, and he’s on trial for her murder. He’s a literature professor in a small college in a small Georgia town which he despises. Thomas H. Cooke’s skillful and sensitive takes us through the ten days of the trial–Madison the narrator–and through the years of their courtship and marriage. “I know what I did,” Madison says at the beginning. But we don’t. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t murder, but maybe it was an assisted suicide (she had (spoiler alert) ALS).
Madison is a character who has shut himself off from his feelings, and the trial–the testimony of the many witnesses as well as his increasingly revealing conversations with his adult daughter–serves as a way back to what his dead wife called his “tenderness.” The quality which attracted her and which she felt he lost.
It’s an entrancing and in many ways terrifying journey we take with Madison as he discovers one painful truth after another. Terrifying because it makes one wonder what we’re hiding from ourselves, what we’re ignoring about what others–even our most intimate others–feel about us.
It’s right up there with the best novels I’ve read this year.