No One Ran to the Altar
"One son walked out the door never to return as another son walked in." So begins the second volume in the Normal Family Trilogy as we pick up this outlandish family saga in the 1970s, recounted through a series of interwoven chapters featuring the many colorful characters.
The story opens with a family tragedy as we see how far the Pendergasts have fallen from their days of fame and fortune. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn what became of Henry, Albert, Eve, Ned, Lucy, and the servants. We observe them facing an endless parade of obstacles, mostly overcome through humor and perseverance.
Much of the novel focuses on the Asperger’s brother, Albert. Albert is intellectually brilliant but emotionally stunted, which presents unique parenting challenges for his mother. With her death, Albert is cast off into the world on his own, until he reaches the point where his siblings must try and rescue him.
The once-idolized father Ned is a drunk living in squalor as he tears through a succession of women. As the narrative unfolds, Henry suspects he came back from the Second World War a rapist. Henry is tasked with caring for his blind father, which he does admirably despite the emotional toll of past betrayals. Henry has succeeded in raising his own normal family, breaking the multi-generational cycle of paternal neglect and abuse. He struggles to play along with the fictional version Ned has created of his life, stewing in resentment as he faces many new disturbing revelations.
The writing intertwines humor with pain throughout. In the end, a tragic betrayal reshapes everything that came before in leaving the reader stunned and eager for the concluding volume in the trilogy, scheduled for 2019 publication.
"Having thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the trilogy I was looking forward to the second. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.
For me, Henry Pendergast and his dysfunctional family are so real, they seem like old friends. This time we catch up with them some years after the first book ended, as events and strands from past and present are woven together. This is a bold move which might have left the reader confused. However, the threads are blended so expertly that I was never jarred out of the absorbing narrative.
Henry’s story is both funny and poignant, so that one minute I was laughing, the next wiping away the tears. Don Trowden perfectly depicts how it feels to love our nearest and dearest but at the same time feel exasperated by them. There is also plenty of intrigue and mystery as Henry struggles to make sense of his life and unearth well-hidden—and shocking—family secrets.
This book is superbly written, and glows with warmth and intelligence. Don Trowden deserves to be widely read and known. I’m eagerly awaiting the third book in the trilogy."
Teresa Stepping, Author of The Time Crystals
“In Trowden's winning second novel in the Normal Family trilogy, Henry is taking care of his elderly, obstinate father and growing closer to other family members following his brother’s suicide. Throughout, the author deftly weaves humor into tragedy. The descriptions are loaded with original phrasing—at times hilarious, at times cutting. The revelation of family secrets is fitting and poignant.”
The BookLife Prize in Fiction
"Caleb Mason likes sentences that finish well, that take readers on a journey that pays off on the final word. He devotes careful attention to musicality and edits his writing with the aim of creating a varied flow.
Using the pen name Don Trowden, Mason begins his latest novel with this gem of a sentence: “One son walked out the door never to return as another son walked in.” No One Ran to the Altar is the second in a family trilogy that tells the tragic and darkly comedic downfall of the once-proud Pendergasts."
Bob Keyes, Maine Sunday Telegram
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