Essayist and novelist Quindlen (Good Dog. Stay., 2007, etc.) tosses a grenade of murderous mayhem into the middle of an otherwise standard-issue novel of manners about an upper-middle-class community in Vermont.
Mary Beth Latham, who runs a landscaping business, and her eye-doctor husband Glen are the parents of 14-year-old twins Alex and Max and 17-year-old Ruby. The first half of the novel is Mary Beth’s self-deprecating yet vaguely self-congratulatory narration of her family’s life. Mary Beth’s marriage to dull but decent Glen continues on middle-aged simmer. Soccer star Alex is as popular in his way as self-confident iconoclast Ruby, who is past her little bout of anorexia. Only Max, geeky and socially awkward, seems to be struggling. Although he does seem to like his therapist—by coincidence a specialist in twins and a twin himself—his only friend is Ruby’s boyfriend Kiernan. But Ruby has outgrown Kiernan, who continues to hang around the house mooning after her and adopting the Lathams as a surrogate family since his own parents’ nasty divorce. Mary Beth deals with small business crises and her Mexican workman. She and her friends commiserate over their children, although not their marriages, in admirable if not quite believable rectitude. Then Kiernan, whose mental problems Mary Beth has either missed or ignored, although they’ll seem pretty apparent to the reader, goes berserk and commits a horrendous act of violence against Mary Beth’s family. Only Mary Beth and Alex survive, and the remainder of the book details their road to emotional recovery. Unfortunately, while Quindlen’s a pro at writing about the quotidian details in the life of a bourgeois Everywoman like Mary Beth, the actual plot is hard to swallow. The murders are too obviously meant to shock. Mary Beth’s guilt over a brief affair she had with Kiernan’s womanizing dad years ago rings false. And the outpouring of support she receives from friends and family is too saccharinely redemptive.
An unsatisfying mix of melodrama and the mundane.