New Jersey's Bon Secours Continuous Care Facility is located on the Hudson River, just two miles south of the George Washington Bridge and across the river from gleaming Manhattan. This unlikely setting for Weehawken High School student Thomas Moore's summer travails couldn't be more different from the open road adventures of his 22-year-old sibling, Alex. From the air-conditioned halls of Bon Secours to the remote wilderness of Starvation Lake, Utah, these contrasts are all part of the mix in Joseph Colicchio's fourth novel, All Strings Attached.
It was July 2008 and Tommy, an impressionable teenager, was beginning his Life Skills internship at the local Roman Catholic elder care facility with Cathy Degnan, his conscientious but complicated supervisor. At the same time, his big brother Alex had just jumped into a friend's car, heading west to discover his future. While on the road, Alex's exploits contribute exciting, page-turning elements to the narrative: part thriller, part road-trip saga.
For Tommy, it is the nursing home's residents and staff which open his eyes to the world in all its aching beauty. The novel celebrates the inevitable interweaving of life and loss. Colicchio's writing stirs. As one of the senior residents explains it, life is "a regular roil of emotions...anger, surprise, shame, pride, embarrassment. All the biggies." From Sandy, a resident who shut out the world since his son Joe was murdered decades prior, to Sara, the nursing home's "new girl" who still embraces happiness, the novel reminds us that people can choose to seek growth and joy despite life's struggles.
The brothers' two stories overlap in surprising, life-affirming ways. Alternating with Tommy's summer of awakening at Bon Secours, Colicchio deftly presents Alex's own dramatically different season of growth and discovery, as his summer road trip takes engaging and ultimately harrowing turns across America.
Often profound, Colicchio's work is consistently engrossing as he skillfully balances the relationship between destiny and choice, between will and circumstance, and between choices made or stubbornly avoided. Frequently a page-turner, the author also mixes in healthy doses of rich characterization and storytelling which demand a more savoring speed, as he explores the inner complexities of human experience. Humorous, tender, and wise, All String Attached is a brutally honest examination of the circle of life, and as one of the book's elder's declares: "What beauty, what beauty life is."