The lives, loves and fortunes of two very different men become hopelessly entwined as the decades pass them by.
Hershon's latest story revisits many of the same themes as her earlier works—family, class competition and marital strife are all on display here—but there’s no doubt that she (The German Bride, 2008, etc.) is a born novelist, even if her new novel does wander on a bit too long. The story takes place between 1962 and the present day, following the most intimate hopes, fears and relationships of two talented New England savants. Ed Cantowitz is an ambitious Jewish student at the largely WASP-ish Harvard University. Ed is oddly drawn, however, to the gregarious and wealthy Hugh Shipley, a budding photographer who’s far more interested in whiskey than his expensive education. Hugh develops a vibrant relationship with the stunning Helen Ordway, which initiates the rift between the two friends when Ed becomes wildly obsessed with her. After a near-miss between Ed and Helen, life, as it does, goes on. Hugh and Helen leave for Africa, where Hugh falls into humanitarian work, while Ed pursues his single-minded quest for wealth on Wall Street. The novel takes an unlikely turn after both men’s relationships start to fall into disarray. Ed’s estranged daughter Rebecca becomes close friends with Hugh and Helen’s daughter Vivi, bringing the families closer than is comfortable for anyone. Hershon, par for the course, captures the off-putting rhythms of life’s big and little disappointments with verve, but Ed and Hugh are both so pitiably unlikable that it’s difficult to conjure much sympathy for them, even in the wake of Ed’s prison sentence and Hugh’s stunned disbelief that his marriage is crumbling. Meanwhile, the intersection of their two daughters feels a bit forced, even as their characterizations contribute little to the core story.
A richly composed but demanding portrait of familial gravity and the wobbly orbits that bring us together again and again.