SURPRISE ME by Deena Goldstone


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The relationship between an aspiring writer and her mentor, tracked over two decades.

It’s spring semester 1994, and Isabelle Rothman is a senior at Chandler College in Los Angeles. She signs up for a writing tutorial with visiting professor Daniel Jablonski, a novelist whose early literary success has dwindled to nothing, leaving him blocked, depressed, and agoraphobic. He's known on campus as a difficult, unresponsive man, but Isabelle elicits a far livelier reaction from him. The first part of Goldstone’s (Tell Me One Thing, 2014) debut novel focuses on the development of their mutually inspiring relationship and of Isabelle’s novel, which is about a “girl who commits crimes”—a girl quite different than her self-effacing creator. After graduation (and an abbreviated but creepy make-out session), Daniel and Isabelle are parted for many years, continuing their relationship sporadically by email. She goes home to Long Island and her unpleasant family, then back to California, where a passionate interlude with a blond soccer player changes her life permanently. Daniel, who has a troubled, unfriendly family of his own, bounces from LA to Colorado, then to Iowa City, then is grudgingly taken in by his alienated daughter in New Hampshire. The obscure little town she lives in agrees with him; finally able to overcome his agoraphobia and his writer’s block, he publishes a novel based on his relationship with Isabelle. However, what he sees as a loving tribute strikes her as literary larceny, and she races across the country to tell him off. Since this encounter resolves the central conflict of the novel, it’s surprising to see there’s still a big chunk of pages left. This final section jumps ahead to 2014, introducing new characters and situations it’s hard to maintain interest in.

Fritters away its initial momentum with a rambling, slack storyline.

Pub Date: June 21st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-54123-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2016


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