The email-driven narrative and multiple subplots show technical dexterity and wit, but the soullessness of the world Paesel...



Paesel (Mommies Who Drink, 2006) structures her dark comedy about the First-World problems of upper-middle-class Californians around a constant stream of emails circulating among the parents of 10-year-olds on a junior soccer team.

Although the Manatees belong to a league in supposedly glamorous Beverly Hills, anyone whose kids have ever played sports will recognize the absurdities of team politics as expressed in the emails. The Manatees’ parents are a hot mess of ego, insecurity, and libido. An annoying yoga instructor continually complains about unhealthy snacks. An aggressive, anything-for-a-win dad wages ongoing warfare with his steely attorney ex-wife despite the negative impact on their rage-filled son. The team mother puts a happy face on every team screw-up while she pretends her son’s frighteningly extreme behavior is normal. Stereotypical Korean immigrants tiger-parent their athletically talented son, unaware of the boy’s other secret talents—stealing and out-of-body travel, the latter adding an incongruous dash of surrealism that never really makes sense. Recently divorced, relatively self-aware Diane, whose point of view dominates the narrative, finds reading and sometimes responding to e-mails while drinking wine (lots of it) the perfect escape from loneliness. And then there’s Coach Randy. As jovial and upbeat as he tries to come across in his group emails, referring to himself as “your favorite coach! (kidding),” he faces his own crises with growing distress. Though he's unaware that his much-younger wife, Missy, is having an affair with Alejandro, the hunky Colombian college student hired as a “private skills coach” for the boys, he still can't bring himself to tell her that he’s been fired from his job. Instead he confides in Diane, who is also involved with Alejandro. The plot shenanigans are more sad than silly because the pain avoidance practiced by most of the adult characters through secrecy, misrepresentation, or self-delusion tends to cause only more pain.

The email-driven narrative and multiple subplots show technical dexterity and wit, but the soullessness of the world Paesel describes is depressing.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4564-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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