Great fun, and with a few poignant moments too.

THE CASTAWAYS

Nantucket in summer, four chummy couples, romantic intrigue and a possible murder, in the latest from Hilderbrand (A Summer Affair, 2008, etc.).

The book opens with the death of Greg and Tess MacAvoy. Sailing from Nantucket to Martha’s Vineyard for their 12th anniversary, the beloved couple is found drowned, trapped under their boat. Ed Kapenash, Nantucket Chief of Police and one of Greg’s best friends, has to break the news to his wife Andrea, Tess’s cousin. They are joined in mourning by rich, cultured Addison Wheeler; his wife Phoebe, a pill-popping zombie since her twin’s death on 9/11; wild Delilah Drake (in love with Greg); and her stoic husband Jeff. Inseparable for years, the four couples loved and respected each other, vacationed together, watched each other’s children; in fact, they seemed to have an idyllic life of friendship on the island—until the death of Greg and Tess uncovers all their dirty secrets. The toxicology report finds heroin in the bloodstream of sweet, overcautious Tess, a kindergarten teacher and doting mother of twins. Ed also finds five phone calls on Tess’s phone from Addison the morning of the sail. Were the MavAvoys’ deaths an accident or a murder plot gone wrong? Much of the mystery hinges on what happened between Greg, a music teacher at the local high school, and April Peck, a student who several months earlier accused him of sexual misconduct. With a few strings pulled by Ed, Greg’s career was saved, but the strain of the scandal has unforeseen consequences on the surviving friends. In mourning, each feels somehow culpable; slowly they confront together the sordid underbelly of their seemingly respectable lives. If the plot becomes a bit stretched at the end, never mind: Hilderbrand has a master’s touch at characterization, making the novel’s players seem so familiar that the revelation of their secrets is irresistible.

Great fun, and with a few poignant moments too.

Pub Date: July 7, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-04389-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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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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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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