David Foley, a lonely, divorced businessman, is devastated when his only son dies at the hands of a terrorist in Saudi Arabia. Only the contemplation of his imminent grandchild rallies him from a debilitating depression. David moves to Louisville, KY to be near his son's pregnant widow and await the birth of his granddaughter, Liesl.
When his daughter-in-law dies while birthing Liesl, David assumes the guardianship of the infant, changing his life forever. An avowed atheist, he's often at odds with Madonna, the deceased woman's staunchly Catholic sister who, along with her husband, has her own seven-child family. Though he wears his atheism on his sleeve, David realizes a relationship with Madonna and her family would benefit his granddaughter. The religious polarity causes him to maneuver through precarious conflicts in search of the elusive common ground between Madonna's devout Catholicism and his own passionate impiety.
The narrative's twenty-four year time frame provides ample dimension to create a wide cast of memorable characters. These include Dexter, a dangerous fugitive who confronts David and Liesl in a road rage incident, Emily, a single mom who David meets while tending Liesl in a local park, and Samantha, a banal but lovable teenager who becomes Liesl's embedded babysitter.
There's also Sheila, the wealthy, married, and promiscuous mother of one of Liesl's private school classmates, and Joel, a teenage schoolmate of Liesl's, whom David stumbles upon in a compromising position with his granddaughter. Enter Justine, a recently divorced and transplanted classical musician on whom David has definite designs. Next comes Alan, a grad student Liesl falls in love with while away at college, then Nestor, a brutal family abuser who preys upon his wife and daughter, both clients of Liesl, now a counselor at a women's shelter.
As David flits between crudity and gentility, the story itself seamlessly conveys the reader between humor and poignancy, hope and despair, performing arts and violence. David's final two dramatic acts beg the questions: were these noble and courageous deeds, or evil and cowardly actions. Is this a man of probity, sometimes failing his own standards, or is he an immoralist, wrapping himself in a mantle of culture?
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