The Reckless Oath We Made
By Bryn Greenwood
Putnam. 448 pp. $26
Everyone wants to be loved, even a tough and tall redhead with a wonky hip from a motorcycle accident who has a lot of family issues. Like, a lot of family issues: Kansas born-and-bred Zhorzha “Zee” Trego has a morbidly obese hoarder mom to care for, and a very young nephew in her charge, because her sister LaReigne Trego-Gill has been kidnapped by a pair of inmates escaped from the local prison.
When Zee encounters the besotted Gentry Frank after a physical therapy appointment, she slowly, reluctantly accepts his help.
Twenty-four years old and on the autism spectrum, Gentry lives mainly in a gentle world of his own creation, where he is a chivalric knight who speaks what he thinks is a form of Middle English — and is really modern English with a lot of flourishes.
“’Twas my bounden duty to protect Lady Zhorzha,” Gentry explains at one point, “for she was descended of dragons.”
Gentry has a job at an airplane factory and an adoptive multiracial family whose compassion for his challenges is greater than their irritation over his idiosyncrasies. While Zee rolls her eyes at Gentry’s behavior, eventually she realizes that it allows him to interact with a world at best confusing and at worst hostile to his mind and spirit. Then, slowly and reluctantly, she falls in love with him, too.
Hold that arrow, Cupid. We’re still ruled by the realities of a complicated world. Because Zee refuses to leave LaReigne’s 5-year-old son, Marcus, alone, she winds up bringing him along on a drug haul involving a suitcase full of pot carried across state lines.
That’s right. You thought you were reading about a sweet, quirky family caper, and what you’re really reading is … a sweet, quirky family caper about a drug dealer who witnesses a sword fight to save LaReigne, who actually wants to be a white supremacist’s moll.
You may not wind up loving LaReigne. (Even Marcus has a tough time loving his mother.) But you’ll love Zee, who fights for the people she loves with every ounce of strength she has left after her double shifts waitressing and occasional afternoons on THC.
Zee’s life is no fairy tale, but there’s something moving about the way she lets Gentry live in his version of one. Everyone needs a form of escape, she knows, whether that’s medieval role-play, hoarding or drugs.
Real life hurts, but human interactions can work miracles — to some extent. As the fantasy elements of Bryn Greenwood’s “The Reckless Oath We Made” dissolve, hard work replaces the promise of a magic potion. Someone has to meet with lawyers, sign agreements and make prison visits. That someone is usually Zee, and as she sobers up, literally and figuratively, she turns out to be the hero of her own story.