David Gates. Photo by Marion Ettlinger. Courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf.
It’s hard to like Doug Willis, the slightly smug, spoiled, and self-deprecating narrator of David Gates’s second novel, Preston Falls. He’s such, for lack of a better term, a guy. Disillusioned with just about everything—his job, his wife, his kids, his … life—Willis decides to take some time off, some time to think, and build, and play guitar at his country house upstate in Preston Falls. But for Willis, Preston Falls does not turn out to be the haven of pensive thoughts and manly labor he had hoped for. In fact, Preston Falls turns out to be the kerosene-soaked catalyst that inevitably explodes and sends this hapless hero out on the lam.
The middle-aged man caught in the throes of existential crisis is not a new story; nor is the wife wringing her hands, back home tending to the kids. But what’s so compelling about the often detestable Willis and his distraught wife, Jean, is their amazing, and disturbing, resonance. They are an everycouple. Every late-century, baby-boomer couple misty for their youth and stunned by how they got to where they are. And Gates has imbued them with such honesty, such sensitivity, such an acute sense of fear and paralysis that in the end one must grudgingly applaud Willis for making an attempt to do something. Condemn him for the hurtful and selfish way in which he does it; but ultimately celebrate both Willis and Jean for having the compassion to recognize the love they might indeed share.
Preston Falls was recently published by Alfred A. Knopf.