Reviewed by Dipika Mukherjee.
Recalled To Life is a Chicago story about family ties and the redeeming power of love. Dan Burns takes us into the world of Peter O’Hara, a talented architect whose career is on the upswing. His stable family life with wife Melanie and son Jake is suddenly interrupted when a crisis involving Peter’s father, Jack O’Hara, turns their lives upside down. Jack moves in with Peter and although he forms a very strong bond with grandson Jake, his declining mental health tests the limits of this family.
Burns deftly outlines the challenges in caring for an elderly parent. He deals sensitively with the trials of aging, particularly in dealing with failing physical strength and the frustrations of memory loss. Peter’s quandary, as he juggles managing his father and keeping his own family happy, is emotionally charged.
Jack O’Hara is instrumental in compelling Peter to make a choice about his career and this choice is made in a way that ends the book on a high note. The opening pages are slow however, and the pacing can be frustrating, but once Jack moves in with Peter the story picks up quickly.
Although Burns describes the growing bond between Jake, Peter and Jack with skill, there are some raw edges: there is a suggestion of a transgression on Jack’s part (adultery? neglect?) which is hinted at but never fully revealed; Peter’s client, Gattling, seems exceptionally interested in Jack O’Hara’s health and it appears that this may lead to an interesting development but nothing materializes; it’s implied that Peter is attracted to an office colleague but this thread fizzles out.
Burns writes with great empathy for all the characters. The scene of the O’Hara family eating hot dogs during a baseball game is both memorable and touching. Melanie is a wonderfully drawn character who is initially sympathetic to her father-in-law’s situation, but unwilling to be a martyr when his behavior jeopardizes the family. The situations that Peter confronts at his office—heavy doses of nepotism and incompetence—are handled with gravity and humor at the same time.
Overall this is a touching Chicago story about intergenerational bonds, and the love that keeps a family together despite the challenges of life.