Prologue

Dedication

To Alison, Stephen, Sebastian, and Ellie—

I’m so proud of each of you and so proud to have you in my life.

Acknowledgments

This novel could not have been written without the love, support, and encouragement of my wife, Alison, and our children—Stephen, Sebastian, and Ellie. Thank you for putting up with my stress-frazzled mind and all my insecurities throughout this whole process. Thank you, also, to my mother, Mary; my brother, Mike; and my mother-in-law, Elaine—I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for all that you’ve done for me.

I’m extremely grateful to Rick Pascocello of Glass Literary Management, who took on my novel when it was still in its infancy. My first drafts were cartoonishly bad. His comments and suggestions helped each successive draft become better, more realistic, and tighter. Looking back, I can’t believe the time he devoted to my novel, the patience and encouragement he offered during the novel’s gestation. Thank you also to Alex Glass for his many insights and early critiques. And thank you to the many earlier readers whom Rick reached out to for comments—I don’t know your names, but you’ve helped me tremendously.

I’ll forever be in Megha Parekh’s debt. Not only did she acquire my novel for Thomas & Mercer, but she also proposed a killer title for it—I Will Never Leave You—which I love for its urgency, its insistence. Beyond that, she suggested bringing Charlotte Herscher on board as developmental editor. Working with Charlotte has been a dream—she identified literally hundreds of problems within my manuscript and had the patience to read through three completely different drafts within a relatively few weeks. I’ve relied on her expertise, sensibilities, and problem-solving skills throughout my revision process—thank you! I’m also deeply in debt to Stephanie Chou, my wonderful copyeditor who single-handedly rid my manuscript of hundreds of spelling, grammar, and continuity errors. Thank you!

Many other people at Thomas & Mercer have also provided invaluable assistance, including Sarah Shaw, Laura Barrett, Oisin O’Malley, Jessica Tribble, Laura Sarasqueta, and Laura Costantino.

Over the years, a number of fantastic writers have helped me develop my craft: Frank Conroy, Keith Banner, John McNally, Claire Messud, Thomas Mallon, Joyce Hackett, Ed Falco, Jeff Mann, Lucinda Roy, and Fred D’Aguiar. Scarcely can I write a paragraph or structure a chapter without thinking of one lesson or another these writers have taught me. Thank you.

I’m also lucky to count so many writers among my friends, including Julie Lawson Timmer, Jenniey Tallman, Jeremy Griffin, Heather Ryan, Robert Kostuck, R. L. Maizes, Tracee de Hahn, and Thea Swanson. I’ve learned from your examples, benefited from your suggestions, and cried on your shoulders. Thank you for being there for me when I needed you.

Lastly, I began writing this novel after a period of profound disappointment. I was seriously thinking of packing it in and giving up on the writing thing. Two things happened—I started reading psychological thrillers for the first time. Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train. And then Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl, Asa Harrison’s The Silent Wife, and many others. Until then, I’d devoted myself to literary fiction with an aggressively outré, experimental, or absurdist orientation, but I was overwhelmed by the propulsive narrative momentum these psychological thrillers presented and by the real but terribly flawed characters.

Also around this time, I started attending the Wednesday evening “Refresh” services at Blacksburg Baptist Church during Lent 2016. Before one of those services, I prayed an “Our Father” to myself. When I got to the “and lead us not into temptation” line, I experienced an epiphany of sorts: the biggest temptation that I consistently yielded to was allowing myself to fall prey to a stubborn sense of hopelessness. I vowed to give up that sense of hopelessness. During that same service, Rev. Todd Millsaps urged congregants to look into their lives and discern what wasn’t working. He urged us not to cling to notions that were getting us nowhere. Instead, he urged us to be brave and step in different directions that might yield fruit. The aggressively outré, experimental, or absurdist thing wasn’t working for me, and yet I had clung to that aesthetic out of pride. Rev. Millsaps’s message touched me deeply. I let go of that aesthetic and became determined to try my hand at something different. Thank you, Todd!

Should anyone find themselves in Blacksburg, Virginia, on a Sunday morning (or a Wednesday evening during Lent), I encourage them to drop by our church. Blacksburg Baptist Church is truly the most open, giving, and invigorating church community I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter.