Journalist Fleming’s second foray into fiction, after the charming novella Marriage (2003), delivers a 40ish New Yorker from a dead-end affair with an older man into a reconciliation with her estranged sister.
Fleming deeply wants to please her readers, and renders her journalist protagonist Clare Layton sympathetic despite her self-protective rough edges. Originally from California (the daughter of a famous 1960s TV actress), Clare has resolved to make New York her home, and dig into her unsatisfying but self-sustaining six-year affair with married, 60ish mayoral assistant Michael, who has just had prostate surgery and is not up to having sex. When Louise, the older sister she hasn’t seen for 27 years, calls her in the middle of the night wanting to see her, Clare, now indulging in Ambien and Chinese takeout, agrees to a meeting. What follows is the heavy-handed middle section of this curiously disjointed work: knotty Clare and Louise, a suburban Florida wife with two sons, reconcile briefly over ladylike sprees to hair salons. Louise, bizarrely, leads her sister to believe she is fleeing her abusive husband, though in fact the couple is using the ruse to try to ensnare Clare into writing about their sick teenaged son, Luke, who desperately needs a new liver. Clare’s realization that she’s been tricked leads to her angry expulsion of the couple, and the finite nature of her affair with Michael—unreachable in most ways and not a lovable character, by any means—begins to dawn on her. Clare undergoes a mysterious transformation that leads her to Florida, and to Luke, who turns out to be a sensitive aspiring evangelical preacher. Clare offers nobly to donate her own liver, and the breach that began with the desertion of the sisters’ movie-star mom heals. Fleming’s work flies a half-dozen different ways, especially in flashbacks to growing up in Hollywood.
A valiant effort, though the forced rapprochement with troublesome characters Louise and Michael don’t sit well.