A clever sweet tart, more tart that sweet.

THE PURSUIT OF ALICE THRIFT

Popular for sprightly if predictable romantic comedies (The Dearly Departed, 2001, etc.), Lipman stretches her boundaries in her newest by letting readers know early on that her lovers will not end up happily every after—at least not together.

All work and no play Alice Thrift is a Harvard-educated surgical intern at a Boston hospital. Ray Russo is an uneducated, coarse, and sleazy fudge salesman who also claims to be a widower. Alice begins her deadpan narration by quoting the New York Times description of their wedding, letting us know right off that the marriage has ended disastrously before she retraces their courtship. Ray enters her life looking for a nose job. That he immediately begins to pursue Alice raises immediate suspicions given Alice’s off-putting personality, which Lipman does almost too good a job conveying. Alice is book smart but lacks any bedside manner, sense of humor, or ability to interact with others. When she considers quitting medicine after being put on probation for falling asleep on the job, her roommate Leo, a charming and (of course) handsome male nurse, bucks her up with pep talks and pizza. She doesn’t resign, and she continues resisting Ray, who won’t take no for an answer. But Leo’s new girlfriend is a midwife who disdains doctors, so Alice moves into a studio apartment. She succumbs to Ray’s transparent seduction and begins having regular sex. Her job performance improves, she makes friends with her fellow doctor-in-training Sylvie. But needy Alice feels left out by Sylvie’s mild flirtation with Leo, who is squabbling with his now-pregnant girlfriend. In reaction she elopes with Ray. At the elaborate after-the-fact wedding, Alice discovers Ray’s “dead wife” is in fact a living girlfriend. Without breaking any laws, Ray has bamboozled her out of money, but she is wiser, and also happier, living now in a three-bedroom apartment with Sylvie and Leo (who may have potential as more than pal).

A clever sweet tart, more tart that sweet.

Pub Date: June 24, 2003

ISBN: 0-679-46313-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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