It's hard for me to believe this is Cass McMain's first book. It's beautiful in it's simplicity. If you're looking for a fast-paced thriller, this isn't the book for you. If you're looking for meaty characters with regular problems, a quiet drama that will stick with you long after you put the book down, look no further.
In Sunflower, McMain has created characters who feel like real people; Michael and Jess could live next door. The story is made more vivid by the details of the area in New Mexico where they live. The dialogue is so realistic that you don't mind when it seems like what they're discussing is inconsequential. It's enjoyable just to be a fly on the wall. Of course, the brilliance of this book is that there are no inconsequential conversations. Even the most seemingly simple misunderstanding can lead to catastrophe and what isn't said - the hurt feelings, guilt, pride - weighs just as heavily.
In one scene, McMain writes: "If Jess had gone to him then, and put her arms around him, he'd have collapsed into her and told her everything. . . And then maybe everything would have turned out differently." But she doesn't, and the reader watches helplessly as this couple continues to fail each other, no matter how good their intentions.
In a matter of weeks, their contented life unravels in a series of almost mundane problems: a stressful work schedule, the pressure of someone else's expectations, a missed phone call, an argument with a delivery driver, the heart attack of an unfriendly neighbor, the decision to take in a stray cat. Things skid further and further off track and when they're righted, everything has changed.
Sunflower is a book about identity and shows that sometimes it is only when life gets hard that we find out who we are.