Night Navigation covers some rough terrain, Del Merrick, sixty, trapped in a cycle of addiction and codependency with her son, Mark, thirty-seven, in an unusually honest novel. After her husband's suicide years ago, Del is left to raise her two fatherless boys, both scarred by their father's death. When Aaron, the younger son, dies as well, Del and Mark face a future weighted by the past. Labeled a Mentally Ill Chemical Abuser (MICA), Mark has a unique set of problems, his mania often medicated by the hard drugs that make him an addict. Time after time, mother and son have done their agonizing, dysfunctional dance, Mark chronically scamming, Del slowly untangling herself from her son's destructive compulsions. Somehow, amid all the chaos, there is hope, an incremental movement toward a different way of life, or at least an attempt to live differently.
Del's long-time affair with the stoic Richard offers some respite from Mark's drama. A man who loves her deeply, Richard refuses to take part in the family dynamic and won't cosign Del's involvement in Mark's disease, her incessant micromanagement of Mark's life. Conditioned to expect the worst by her tragic circumstances, Del resists Mark's addict behavior, but falls into familiar patterns when the mania asserts itself. So Del continues her struggle to detach, yearning for time alone to work on her drawings, Mark poised to enter yet another treatment facility. Perhaps Richard is the healthiest of the three, although he and Del have their own communication problems.
Brutally frank, this novel pulls no punches a blow-by-blow account in alternating chapters, Del's narrative and Mark's. Every form of treatment is explored, from detox to a stint at Lazarus House, a therapeutic community that tears you down in order to build you up. Mark tolerates each place, but always finds an excuse to leave, his junkie brain taking over in spite of periodic calls to his NA sponsor and sporadic attendance at 12-Step meetings. Mark never gets past the voice of his disease, the mind set of the user. Clean for a few months, he refuses his psych medications, setting off another manic cycle, Del dragged back from whatever progress she has made.
Mark's predictable rationalizations are painful, his sly manipulation that will only lead to another dead end. At thirty-seven, Mark thinks like an adolescent, untrustworthy, a liar who will sell everything he owns to use. This is an unsettling, familiar saga, a family in constant crisis, emergency numbers on a laminated card in Mark's wallet, Del dreading the sound of the ringing phone. Still, unbelievably, there are strains of recovery, minor chords of hope in a discordant tune, Mark whistling in the dark to hide his fear. But life goes on and Del does the best she can, a forgiving heart her greatest flaw, a broken son her burden. Luan Gaines/2009.