Michael Reed’s life, like the public school studio inhabited by Flower Cannon, his improbably named crush, is “messy and full of ghosts.” Reed is a 50-something Midwest college professor and former speechwriter whose wife and child died in a car wreck.
Picking up the pieces, he stumbles on Cannon (who changed her name from Micah James). She’s 20 years younger, a female Tiresias figure intended to escort Michael back to psychological (not sexual) intimacy. This would be little more than a midlife crisis book (“Anne and Elsie had to be killed, and the killing of them was up to me.”) in the hands of a less accomplished writer, but Johnson teases and torments Reed, who inhabits grief as a cathartic exercise. Always an exceedingly “male” writer, Johnson is generous with Reed. The name of the world, he suggests, is hope.