A novel that tells the story of best friends who grow up in D.C. during the Cold War, told from the perspective of the one who is less talented, less desirable and more real.
Holt's short fiction has received a Pushcart Prize, and she was runner-up for the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award. Our narrator and protagonist is Sarah Zuckerman. After Sarah’s older sister’s death from meningitis, her parents’ marriage never recovers. Sarah needs a friend, and when the Joneses move in next door, she gets her wish. Jenny Jones’ family is an advertisement for a particular form of American domestic happiness, and the outgoing Jenny is an advertisement for herself. It is the early ’80s, the deepest chill of the Cold War, when Sarah begins a letter to Yuri Andropov, then leader of the Evil Empire. Jenny writes too, and Andropov replies to her. Jenny becomes a media darling, joins the popular clique at school, and leaves Sarah and her morose mother alone with their sorrows. A few years later, Jenny and her parents die in a plane crash. This fact of Jenny’s disappearance, and the conspiracies surrounding it, define Sarah’s life (Sarah’s mother establishes a Jenny Jones foundation). After college, Sarah travels to Russia in response to a note from Svetlana. Svetlana, apparently, is the girl standing next to Jenny in all the photos from Jenny’s visit as a child ambassador to the USSR. We never stray far from Sarah’s cramped perspective, and this tries the reader’s patience, as Sarah offers platitudes in place of insight.
This debut novel only looks deeply at one character, Sarah, and she is not enough to sustain interest.