Hap and Hazard and the End of the World
The narrator of this dreamlike novel is an unnamed seven-year-old girl who simply wants to know what is true and what is not. In a family headed by a furious WWII veteran who has returned both maimed and traumatized, this is not a simple thing. How do you know you’re not talking to yourself, in bed, alone in the dark? she wonders, knowing that her parents lie, but not about what. Santa Claus? Jesus? Their love for each other? Stylistically, DeSanders achieves a heartbreaking, lyrical, and laser-focused evocation of a child’s perception of the mysteries of the adult world; the perfectly rendered setting is 1940s Dallas, just when its harsh rural beauties were becoming sanitized into suburban conformity. Plotwise, however, the novel is unsatisfying, not because of its fragmented sense of time, but because it relies too heavily on melodrama. The dreamlike tone becomes nightmarish, and the destruction of childhood innocence unfolds in depressingly predictable ways. To say more would be to spoil the shocks that DeSanders delivers—and they are grim—in the last third of the novel; the beauty of the writing nearly, but not quite, makes up for the way the story simply limps to a close after the family’s final tragic secrets are revealed.