Quirky, rueful and wise.



Disasters bookend this slim story, the last in a quartet of loosely linked novels (Meritocracy, 2004, etc.) from TV and movie scriptwriter Lewis.

The setting is coastal Maine. The small community of Clement’s Cove is made up of year-rounders and summer people from “away.” The year-rounders, like Thomas Hardy’s rustics, gather in the general store to comment on the action, which begins with a fabulous wedding paid for by the groom, Adam Bloch, a Jew among the WASPs. Back in 1966, Adam was the driver in an accident that killed a beautiful young woman, Sascha Maclaren; he hasn’t felt human since, though he has gone on to amass an extraordinary fortune. Blind chance tugs Lewis’s characters this way and that, and a happenstance meeting in Manhattan between the lonely bachelor billionaire and Sascha’s beautiful sister Maisie leads to their marriage (both are now in their 50s). The story revolves round two couples: Diffident Adam and capricious Maisie, and the year-rounders Verna, who cleans houses, and her shiftless boyfriend Roy, who doesn’t do much of anything. Adam has built a magnificent house for his bride and her two little girls (Chinese, adopted). Maisie needs a lap pool. Verna possesses the last piece of soft ground in this rocky terrain, ideal for Maisie’s pool; but Verna won’t sell. Resisting the conventional story line (new money rides roughshod over the old timers), Lewis has Adam, the good neighbor, back off; but his perfect manners are no match for life’s vicissitudes, and in a second disaster, the house burns to the ground. We learn this at the outset, but Lewis cunningly conceals the circumstances, to provide a gripping climax. In between he looks glancingly at the trickiness of relationships, the attachment to ancestral land and the unfair distribution of guilt. He does justice to both social groups, and he is helped immeasurably by a pitch-perfect ear.

Quirky, rueful and wise.

Pub Date: May 20, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59051-284-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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