It's Susan's first novel, and one she's worked on for several years. She gets it all right. The characters breathe, they are all likable, believable people struggling to do the best they can under enormous pressures.
It's an interior novel with snippets of action, but its power lies in the opportunity to spend time in the minds of the characters as they try to make sense of themselves and their relationship with the others in the family. Gardening frames the narrative beautifully, and makes the movement in the novel flow and have external meaning.
Although the novel ends with no clear resolution, it ends on an up-note, a sense that Emmy and Eric, the parents, have moved through the darkness, the winter of their discontent, and will be able to work together with more compassion for each other and for their children, to do what's best for each child in the family.
Their lives have revolved around Nick, their autistic son, to the detriment of their marriage, their other two sons, and themselves, and perhaps to Nick's detriment, as well. They are disconnected and their reactions to each other in moments of stress are entirely believable. They find support in Tom, the just-right speech therapist who helps the family to reach a moment of resolution to reach out to each other, to seek help, to weather the storms that inevitably face them.
I devoured this book this weekend, reading it as a word document, and found myself lost in it, scrolling through it as if I were sprinting for the finish line, eager to see what the next page would bring.
It's a realistic novel; things don't magically get better, problems don't disappear, but what does crystallize is the parents' intention to see each family member as the unique individual he is, and to honor that individuality and the specific needs and issues rather than focusing on how those individuals revolve around Nick and his needs.
It's an excellent novel, one of the better books I've read that incorporate autism into its narrative and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.