34/4 by Jonathan Gunger

This book is set in two geographical areas that have great meaning for me. Like the Taylor family in 34/4, I too grew up in Shelton, Connecticut and was thrilled to find a novel set there. When the Taylor family moves away from New England after a family tragedy occurs, they relocate to a small town in Northwest Florida where I also spent ten years. So geographically, I was able to identify with this book.

 

In 34/4, the Taylor family lose their younger son Isaac and it is the older son, Pete, who feels the loss most keenly (or so he believes) and feels responsible for his brother’s death. But father Bill Taylor also feels responsible because it is one of his engineering designs that is indirectly responsible for the conditions leading to his own son’s demise. Mother Anne Taylor is hit hardest of all: she has lost her youngest child, feels helpless to comfort her husband who in turn takes to alcohol, and distances herself from her oldest son. Anne finds her comfort in the stupor created by drugs and alcohol. This dysfunctional family moves robotically through the years following their loss as they spin around in their own worlds. Pete, the remaining son, literally goes through his high school years leaning heavily on friends, booze, and marijuana. Somehow he manages to graduate. When an opportunity comes for the Taylor family to relocate to northwest Florida, father Bill sees the move as an opportunity for them all to make a fresh start. But the depression that has taken root in each of their lives moves with them to Florida. In short, each of the Taylors must hit rock bottom before they can turn their lives around. Can they find their way back to one another?

 

Jonathan Gunger’s most descriptive passages give the reader an in-depth perspective into the lives of his characters as he brings each of them to the turning point of their lives. His knowledge of the subject matter in 34/4 is impressive as he strives to give us as much of the character backstory as possible. While the story centers around Pete Taylor, I would have liked to know more about his parents and several of the secondary characters. There are several places where the story bogs down just a bit but that shouldn’t deter the reader.

I’m hoping Mr. Gunger is working on a sequel as I’d be interested in learning how each of the Taylors progresses through life after they’ve made their rebound.