Despite some dips into melodrama, a smart consideration of what it means to acquire a family.

PERFECT LIFE

Shattuck returns to the moneyed Massachusetts territory explored in The Hazards of Good Breeding (2003).

They became friends at Harvard, and now, 15 years later, three of them still reside near it. Jenny, a hotshot marketing executive at Genron Pharmaceuticals, is building a McMansion in Wellesley. Laura does the stay-at-home mom thing with her two daughters—she hardly ever sees mogul husband Mac—in Cambridge. That’s also where Elise, a scientist at a lab owned by Genron, lives with her partner Chrissy and their twin sons. Only Neil has wandered away to lead a mysterious, cynical existence in Los Angeles, and when he wanders back to Boston, he is not particularly welcome. Two years ago Jenny approached Neil to be a sperm donor. Her husband Jeremy was infertile, she explained; smart, creative, handsome and healthy Neil seemed like good donor material, and his disinterest in children suited the arrangement Jenny wanted. No one but Laura, Elise and Jeremy would know that Neil was the biological father; he would have no role in the child’s life. But then Neil shows up at the baby’s christening with some vague notion of being acknowledged, and his presence throws everyone’s comfortable habits into question. Shattuck’s best creation is Neil. The gifted 22-year-old with all the right questions, the critical eye, the disdain for conformity, is uncomfortably just the same at 35, when all that brilliance smacks of naive narcissism. Working in Boston for a year developing a video game, he begins his passive-aggressive assault by sleeping with Laura and stalking Jenny’s year-old baby Colin. Paternity and belonging are the novel’s leitmotifs: As Jenny, Jeremy and Neil grapple with the question of what constitutes fatherhood, Elise’s relationship falters over Chrissy’s insistence that their sons meet all the other children produced by inseminations from their sperm donor, whom she calls the boys’ “brothers and sisters.”

Despite some dips into melodrama, a smart consideration of what it means to acquire a family.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06950-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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