Empathy, quiet humor, and extraordinary attention to minor details make this novel about a Southern family a success.
Gordon first made her mark with Are You Happy?, a memoir detailing her 1950s childhood, which, in spite of her parents’ bullying and negligence, was joyful. Her second book, Mockingbird Years, structured around the decades she spent in therapy, delved further into her own psyche. It’s little wonder, then, that with It Will Come to Me, Gordon has produced a work of fiction in which most of the dramatic action is internal. Set in an unnamed southern town, the story is about Ben, a middle-aged philosophy professor, and his wife, Ruth, a stymied author best known for a novel she wrote two decades earlier. They are estranged from their mentally ill and homeless son, Isaac, though they support him financially by giving checks to his therapist, who refuses to tell them anything specific. Ruth spends the majority of her time reminiscing, not writing, and worrying about what acquaintances think of her. Assigned a new, laughably incompetent secretary, Ben grows more and more frustrated with his job until, finally, he takes a stand, which immediately backfires. Are they happy? Not particularly. But Gordon’s writing possesses a close-to-the-ground quality, rendering the details of her characters’ daily lives and thoughts with an empathy and quiet humor comparable to Anne Tyler’s. Ben and Ruth’s conflicts never reach a boiling point, and the surprising encounter at the end doesn’t qualify as a resolution, but what makes the novel successful is Gordon’s extraordinary attention to minor details, both tragic and inane.