In her first novel, Cover of Snow, Jenny Milchman set out to discover what happens when a husband does the worst thing possible to his wife. In Ruin Falls, set in the same upstate New York town, she turns to the worst thing that can befall a mother. Milchman excels at depicting a completely normal milieu, then showing the cracks and dysfunctions in that normalcy.
Ruin Falls opens with that most classic American activity, the family vacation. But something isn’t quite right here. An act of road rage by another driver pushes Liz, the mom, nearly into a panic, while Paul, her husband, maintains a too-icy calm. At a Starbucks stop, we learn that their eight-year-old son, Reid, likes to lift people’s wallets just for fun. And at the hotel, Liz’s paranoia returns, directed at the bell-hop. Yet the next morning, it turns out that her paranoia is well founded: Reid and his sister, six-year-old Ally, are missing from their suite of rooms. Panic and bedlam ensue.