There are four basic factors that make it hard to put down a novel: relatable characters, a unique narrator, mystery, and alien spaceships. Optional extras include hunting accidents, complex (but platonic) human/animal relationships, peculiar supporting characters, and spare, beautiful descriptions of nature. A book with all of these qualities is impossible to put down.
Yannick Murphy might as well have smeared glue all over The Call. The story of a rural New England veterinarian beset by such tribulations as a young son in a coma, recurring visits from a floating light in the sky, and various veterinary emergencies, it is a pitch-perfect character piece and a timely tale of the vague economic anxiety currently haunting (most) Americans.
At first, Murphy's style is jarring. The thoughts of David Appleton—horse doctor, husband, and father—are presented as one might expect to read them in his case notes. It seems clinical and cold:
Action: Put on boots and pulled out dead calf while standing in a field of mud.
Result: Hind legs tore off from dead calf while I pulled...
But eventually, these strange headers allow a refreshingly full, honest depth. The passages read as stream-of-consciousness musings with subjects like "What I Did" and "What I Felt," including flat-out hilarious one-liners that would be impossible in another novel. In a scene of pure warmth and tenderness, the family reads classic novels by the fireplace. David describes it succinctly: "What Jane Eyre Had: A Really Sad Life."
And while the plot swings wildly from David's search for the man who wounded his son to his relationship with his family to a stunning left turn into an obsession with swimming, it's that steady voice that keeps the book grounded. It encourages every tangential slide into worries about taxes or work or visiting spacemen, but never loses sight of its own end.
This is a novel's novel, the kind of book that can't spare a word, that's perfectly insular but still manages to enlighten readers about their own lives. We share the characters' worries: Will there be food on the table? How do families get along? Is that a spaceship? And through Murphy's thoughtfulness, warmth, and humor, we can be comfortable with those questions, even if they remain unanswered.