Not nearly as gritty as his previous crime fiction and his writing for HBO's The Wire, George Pelecanos' new novel, The Way Home, is a surprisingly touching look at complex father/son relationships. Using a few slightly worn tropes, Pelecanos conveys the love, hurt, disappointment, and anger that go hand in hand with familial relations.
Sent to a juvenile detention facility, 17-year-old Chris Flynn, the son of a successful Washington, DC, business owner, is the only white kid in lockup. Chris' privileged background is highlighted when he mentions to Ali, a fellow inmate, that his father is an avid reader: "'Your father,' said Ali with a small smile. 'Your living room. Books. A library... How you end up in this piece?'" Shaking his head, Ali goes on: "You don't belong here, man." But in many ways, Chris does belong there—to show his strong father how tough he is, and to clear his brain of youthful braggadocio. Years later, with a job installing carpet for his father's company, Chris is living clean until he comes across a big ol' bag of money during an install. It's then that he must choose his future—stick to the redemptive path he's started down, or stray.
Pelecanos has a deft hand with emotive details, which he uses to good effect in The Way Home—but it's missing the bare-knuckled punch he's readily capable of. It's got all the heart of his best novels, without his usual soul.