He started the book at two-fifteen on a Saturday afternoon in early December. There were other things he’d rather be doing—watching the Notre Dame game, for instance, or even listening to it on the radio—but that was freezing rain slashing down outside the window, predicted to turn to snow by nightfall, and the power had been out for over an hour. Barb was at the mall, indulging her shopping disorder, Buck was away at college in Plattsburgh and the dog lay in an arthritic bundle on the carpet in the hall. He’d built a fire, checked the hurricane lamps for fuel and distributed them around the house, washed up the breakfast dishes by hand (the dishwasher was just an artifact now, like the refrigerator and the furnace) and then he’d gone into Buck’s room in search of reading material.

His son’s room was another universe, an alien space contained within the walls of the larger, more familiar arena of the house he knew in all its smallest details, from the corroding faucet in the downstairs bathroom to the termite-riddled front porch and the balky light switch in the guest bedroom. Nobody had been in here since September, and the place smelled powerfully of mold—refrigerated mold. It was as cold as a meat locker, and why not? Why heat an unoccupied room? John felt for the light switch and actually flicked it twice, dumbfounded, before he realized it wasn’t working for the same reason the dishwasher wasn’t working. That was what he was doing in here in the first place, getting a book to read, because without power there was no TV, and without TV, there was no Notre Dame.

He crossed the faintly glutinous carpet and cranked open the blinds; a bleak pale rinsed-out light seeped into the room. When he turned back round he was greeted by the nakedly ambitious faces of rap and rock stars leering from the walls and the collages of animals, cars and various body parts with which Buck had decorated the ceiling. One panel, just to the left of the now useless overhead light, showed nothing but feet and toes (male, female, androgyne), and another, the paws of assorted familiar and exotic animals, including what seemed to be the hooked forefeet of a tree sloth. Buck’s absence was readily apparent—the heaps of soiled clothes were gone, presumably soiled now in Plattsburgh. In fact, the sole sartorial reminder of his son was a pair of mud-encrusted hiking boots set against the wall in the corner. Opposite them, in the far corner, a broken fly rod was propped against the bed above a scattering of yellowed newspapers and the forlorn-looking cage where a hamster had lived out its days. The bed itself was like a slab in the morgue. And that was it: Buck was gone now, grown and gone, and it was a fact he’d just have to get used to.