The Prodigal Father
by Forrest Hutter
Westbow Press

"'Grace. That's all it is. It's God's reminder that even now, when nothing makes sense and everything hurts, he's still speaking to us if we listen.'"

Tom Davis is a decent, well-intentioned man of faith plagued by loss, grief, and alcoholism. After the funeral of his son, Eli, Tom begins to tell a retrospective of his life to a woman, Deb, who has attended the service. Tom is questioning his value as a man and whether or not he has been anything but a failure in his relationships with his children, Eli and Jess, and his late wife, Emily, whose death years before during a storm left Tom foundering, questioning, and drinking.

Deb's benign, caring attention enables Tom to open up about situations and feelings that he hasn't permitted himself to think about or feel for many years. Tom's belief in God was tested and denied after Emily's death. The tributes about his son that Eli's military comrades share with Tom surprise and comfort him. The young man's death and the emotions that Eli's father and sister express to caring people open a way for potential healing.

The narrative feels real and gentle, and the characters are believable. Emily is patient, understanding, and strong. Eli is loving and cheerful, with a lifetime ambition to become a knight and be helpful to people. Jess is a person of great sentiment, whose emotions are released when she receives a childhood toy from her late brother via one of his friends. Deb is comforting, understanding, and endowed with gentle determination. Each chapter ends with a quotation from the Bible that punctuates each episode. The religious tone is peaceful, showing that even decent people suffer, fail, and grieve. These can ultimately lead them to find peace and learn (at times despite themselves) to repair their lives.

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