State of the Union
Atria Paperbacks/Simon and Schuster
What if you unwittingly harbored a man on the run from the law? What if you knowingly helped him escape to Canada? What if, decades later, these actions came back to rip your life and your marriage into shreds?
These are the questions that propel the plot of Douglas Kennedy’s engrossing novel The State of the Union. Like Jodi Picoult, Kennedy, who is the best-selling author of Leaving the World, draws on headlines that could come from the pages of The New York Times to build taut, compulsively readable novels.
State of the Union tells what happens to Hannah Buchan, the young wife of a small-town doctor and mother of a baby son, when she lets Toby Judson into her life in the early 1970s. Her husband is conveniently out of town when Judson — an anti-Vietnam war activist friend of her father’s — arrives at her doorstep in Maine, seeking a place to crash. At first, Hannah keeps her distance from her houseguest. But, soon, she succumbs to Judson — a man whose passionate and charismatic personality is so different from that of her conventional, staid husband.
She wants to “block out that angry, reproving voice that was telling me, in no uncertain terms, just wnat an immoral monster I’d been. Just as the rational, Bad-Girl side of my brain was shouting back, Drop the guilt trip. Toby’s right: Guilt is for Carmelites. . .”
Hannah soon realizes that she has been had by Toby, who is not just a garden variety anti-war activist, but who is actually a fugitive. A member of the SDS, he had hidden two Weathermen involved in a fatal bombing in Chicago. As the law gets closer to Toby, he forces Hannah to drive him across the nearby Canadian border.
For the next thirty-odd years Hannah is a model wife and mother. Only her father knows all the details of that long-ago summer, until events catch up with her and her long-hidden secret threatens to destroy her life and family.
State of the Union is a novel to be gulped down quickly. Kennedy’s strength is in giving voice to believable narrators like Hannah. While the drama of State of the Union is more a melodrama than anything else, Hannah tells her story with credible conviction. And, at the end, you are left knowing that the world is a place where seemingly inconsequential “what ifs” can add up to to a sum that can shake the state of any union.
State of the Union is available at amazon.com and at your favorite NY bookstores.