A novel that is both a lot of fun to read and has plenty of insight into the marital bond and the human condition.

THE VACATIONERS

Straub refreshes a conventional plot through droll humor and depth of character.

By now, the premise is so familiar it seems like such a novel could write itself, but it wouldn’t write itself nearly as engagingly as Straub has (Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, 2012, etc.). Starting with the somewhat generic title, she has all the predictable elements in place: family and close friends gathering at an exotic remove from their daily lives, reveal secrets (and articulate unacknowledged truths), learn how well they know each other and how well they don’t, discover which relationships will endure—even strengthen—and which will dissolve. At the end of the idyll—in this case two weeks on the Spanish island of Mallorca—all will return transformed. The reason for this group gathering is the 35th anniversary of Jim and Franny and the high school graduation of their daughter, Sylvia. Franny is a successful journalist, specializing in travel pieces, and Jim had a career at a GQ-style magazine until he lost his job as editor for reasons that threaten their marriage. Sylvia is the novel’s most perceptive character, with a single goal for the vacation—losing her virginity. Joining them are their older son, Bobby, and his older girlfriend, whose lives in Florida are something of a mystery to the New York family, as well as Franny’s lifelong friend Charles and his husband, Lawrence. From the periphery, Lawrence observes that “[o]ther people’s families were as mysterious as an alien species, full of secret codes and shared histories.” Yet even those who share that history remain enigmas to each other, as Franny discovers about Jim: “What did anyone know about anyone else, including the person they were married to?” Ultimately, the reader will savor the novel’s illumination of these characters, who are neither good nor evil but all too human. Will Jim and Franny stay together? Will Sylvia achieve her goal?

A novel that is both a lot of fun to read and has plenty of insight into the marital bond and the human condition.

Pub Date: May 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59463-157-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

PRETTY THINGS

The daughter of a grifter plans to fund her mother’s cancer treatment with a revenge con.

Rich people suck, don’t they? Nina Ross found this out in her adolescence, when her romance with Benny Liebling was broken up by his status-obsessed, old-money father, who found them screwing in the guest cottage of the family’s Lake Tahoe estate. Back then, Nina had a future—but she’s since followed her con-artist mother into the family business with the help of a handsome blue-eyed Irish confederate named Lachlan. “Here’s my rule,” Nina tells him. “Only people who have too much, and only people who deserve it.” Of course, he agrees. “We take only what we need.” With her art history background, Nina is usually able to target a few expensive antiques they can lift without the rich dopes even noticing they’re gone. But now that Nina's mother is hovering at death’s door without health insurance, she’s going after the $1 million in cash Benny mentioned was in his father’s safe all those years ago. So back to Lake Tahoe it is. The older Lieblings are dead, and Benny’s in the bin, so it’s his sister Vanessa Liebling who is the target of the complicated caper. Vanessa is a terribly annoying character—“I couldn’t tell you how I went from a few dozen Instagram followers to a half-million. One day, you’re uploading photos of your dog wearing sunglasses; and the next you’re begin flown to Coachella on a private jet with four other social media It Girls…”—but, in fact, you’ll hate everyone in this book. That is surely Brown’s (Watch Me Disappear, 2017, etc.) intention as she’s the one making them natter on this way. She also makes them vomit much more than is normal, whether it’s because they’re poisoning each other or because they’re just so horrified by each other’s behavior. Definitely stay to see how it all turns out.

Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-47912-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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