For readers of Elizabeth Strout and Kent Haruf, an accomplished debut about a new widower, his fractured relationship with his daughter, and the decades-long friendship he and his late wife enjoyed with another couple whose companionship keeps him afloat after her death
The Dependents is the story of the Ashe family, and of Gene Ashe's relationship with his daughter, Dary, in the wake of his wife Maida's death. It is also the story of the decades-long friendship Gene and Maida shared with the Donnellys, Ed and Gayle, a couple whom they met in college and remained close with over the years.
Gene and Maida were married for almost fifty years, and after Maida's death, Gene, feeling unmoored and adrift, is haunted by the prospect that their marriage was not all it appeared to be and by a question he never asked Maida: "Is it, on the whole, a happy life?" As his memories of Maida diverge from Dary's, a rift between father and daughter grows from this sorrow and misunderstanding.
Dion's assured debut novel moves seamlessly between the history of Gene and Maida's long marriage, including the true north of their friendship with Ed and Gayle, and the present-day grief Gene experiences after losing his wife, as Ed and Gayle buoy his spirits. With their friendship as ballast, he at last begins to understand how deeply unknown his own daughter is to him. Even as he is grateful for the memory of joy, he must also confront lingering questions about secrets held through the years, and about the wounds and betrayals in both his marriage and his friendship with Ed and Gayle.
The Dependents is the best and most moving kind of drama, one that drops us intimately into the expanse of another family and thereby reflects back our own. We are reminded again of the ways in which we deceive ourselves into believing we fully know the people we love, and must eventually reckon with what we want to be true versus what we know to be true
Katharine Dion is a graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was awarded the Iowa Arts Fellowship. She has also been a MacDowell Fellow, the recipient of a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, and a finalist for
Narrative Magazine's 30 Below contest. She lives in Northern California.