Does little to illuminate a familiar conflict.

THE LOST DAUGHTER

In this latest from the pseudonymous Italian Ferrante (Troubling Love, 2006, etc.), a middle-aged woman spends her summer vacation meditating about motherhood.

Leda was born and raised in Naples, but she didn’t feel happy until she escaped at 18 to study in Florence. For her, Florence is a symbol of culture and refinement, while Naples is loud and crude. Now 47, Leda is a university teacher in Florence, long separated from her husband Gianni, another academic, who emigrated to Toronto; her grown daughters, Bianca and Marta, recently joined him, but they stay in close phone contact with their mother. Leda’s summer rental is near the sea in an unspecified town. On the beach she observes an attractive threesome: A young mother (Nina), her small daughter (Elena) and the girl’s doll, with which the pair play. They are part of a larger group of Neapolitans who are sprawled out on the beach. When Elena disappears, Leda finds her and returns her to her grateful mother, but then steals her doll. What’s the reason for this “opaque action”? Does she want to forge a connection to the family, or tap into her own childhood memories? It’s a puzzle; not an interesting one, but there it sits, an indigestible lump. Far more interesting is Leda’s confession, to these total strangers, that she once abandoned her daughters for three years, leaving them with her overworked husband. What triggered her departure was a London academic conference where she was lionized by a professor, who would become her lover, and felt an intoxicating sense of self. Eventually she realized being a mother was her most significant fulfillment. Freedom versus responsibility: This tension underlies Leda’s behavior and ambivalence toward her daughters, which continues to the present. The young mother Nina is Leda’s sounding-board, but Ferrante fails to integrate Leda’s soul-searching with the problems of the fractious Neapolitan family on the beach.

Does little to illuminate a familiar conflict.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-933372-42-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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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