In Kane’s (This Close, 2013, etc.) contemplative second novel, a woman uses an unexpected gift of time to visit four long-neglected friends.
Despite the wire hanger of a plot surrounding these visits, the novel turns on narrator May’s ruminations. Her love of cats and trees (beautiful arboreal drawings by Edward Carey punctuate the text), not to mention her suitcase named Grendel, suggests a delicate, even twee sensibility, but May is capable of expressing curmudgeonly tart opinions about everything from home renovation to the value of neighbors to social media’s evils. Approaching 40, she lives quietly with her aged father in her hometown, working as a gardener at the local university and pondering how best to use 30 days of paid leave the school has awarded her. Inspired by readings on friendship, a skill she’d like to improve, and using The Odyssey as a reverse model of epic adventuring—“What if Penelope had left?” she asks herself—May sets off to visit her long-distance friends. All are surprised by May’s visits but pleased to see her. In return, May follows Emily Post and Greek travel etiquette to become a perfect guest, although she tends to hover at the brink of actual intimacy. Her cautious affection blends with sly humor in her observations of each hostess: the suburban homemaker cracking under the pressure of creating internet-worthy domestic perfection; the Seattle ultraprogressive in the middle of a divorce; the Manhattan sophisticate stressed by her new roles as second wife and stepmother; and the landscape architect leading an invitingly cozy single life in London. May is generous in sharing her thoughts, but the reader must search between the lines to read her heart as May begins receiving postcards hinting at a desire for more than friendship from a nice man back home. More apparent is May’s emotional struggle with unresolved grief over her mother’s lingering illness and death years earlier.
Engagingly cleareyed prose about a winningly eccentric heroine in love with trees and literature.