A novel about the trials and tribulations of family life.
Gwen is unhappy about her mother’s new relationship. After her father died, several years back, the now-teenage Gwen and her mother, Julia, were on their own, just the two of them. Now there’s not only a man to deal with, for all intents and purposes a stepfather, but also a stepbrother, and they’ve all moved into Julia’s London town house together. Segal’s (The Innocents, 2012) latest effort is a moving, funny, and surprisingly gripping story about love and guilt and family life and teenagers. She moves adroitly between points of view so that we see Gwen’s perspective but also Julia’s, James’ (Julia’s beau), and Nathan’s (James’ son)—sometimes within the space of a few paragraphs. At the beginning, Gwen and Nathan can’t stand each other: Gwen is an artistic, indifferent student, while Nathan studies intensely, his gaze set on Oxford. They tease and provoke each other, and the atmosphere of the house is, to say the least, tense. After a while, though, something shifts between them, and Nathan and Gwen grow closer and—to their parents’ horror—closer. What happens next might be somewhat predictable, but that doesn’t make the story any less riveting. Gwen is faced with a choice that will determine not only her own life, but also the lives of the whole household. Throughout all this, Segal’s prose is clear and precise and the novel is so engrossing it’s hard to put down. Despite all their fine intentions, Julia and James can’t help placing extra blame for their situation on the other’s child; each sympathizes with his or her own offspring. There are no clear answers here—not because there is no right or wrong but because family life is messy and teenagers even messier.
In finely wrought prose, with characters who seem to walk beside us and speak aloud, Segal’s latest novel is a sympathetic portrait of the difficulties in finding love and raising teenagers.