The third installment of Stephen Evans’ bittersweet love story, The Island of Always, mixes whimsy, grief, courtroom drama, and charm.
Lena Grant is summoned home to Minneapolis from her job in Geneva by news that her dog is sick. She dreads how Nick Ward, her grandiosely imaginative ex-husband with a history of mental health instability, will take the news. Both adore Wolfram, their Irish wolfhound, and when he dies, Lena is leveled by grief. Nick copes by bringing a court case to have the island where he’s buried named in Wolfram’s honor, which will involve convincing a judge that dogs are sentient beings and risking his and Lena’s careers as lawyers.
Readers will require familiarity with the first two Acts, as there’s no time spent establishing characters and little spent on context. This lack of stage time with Wolfram may impact readers’ investment in his illness and death, the novel’s emotional core. The prose skates smoothly along, the style varying from elevated to moody to poetic to clipped, with a few scenes staged like plays, showing Evans’ hand as a playwright. The courtroom scene devolves into amusing high farce, including a brisk philosophical discussion about sentience (with reference to a forged treatise attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which introduces the book).
Lena is a likeable but prickly character who doesn’t seem to know her own motivations, and the others are one-note, save for Nick, who comes across as an affable goof. The book’s greatest appeal is its eccentric comedy: the Duluth Institute for Cetacean Studies started by Nick’s foundation is a running joke, as the Great Lakes hold no whales. The rest leans heavily on the sentiment readers feel for their pets. Frequent grammatical errors can distract.
This story isn’t for everyone, but those who agree with the rest of the cast that Lena and Nick are a highly entertaining couple, and who appreciate the stylistic swerves, will enjoy this largely pleasing read.