A marriage flames out. Gleefully, thrillingly, Dee (The Privileges, 2010, etc.) tracks its aftermath, focusing primarily on the evolution of the ex-wife.
That’s Helen Armstead, struggling to save a dying marriage. Husband Ben, partner in a New York City law firm, has been so deeply depressed he’s ignored not just her and their upstate home, but their 12-year-old daughter, Sara (Chinese, adopted). The end comes fast. Ben, discovered in a hotel room with his intern, is beaten bloody by her boyfriend, then discovered again in his car, drunk and unconscious. Fired, and facing rape and DWI charges, he goes into rehab. Divorce filed but their assets frozen, Helen, a stay-at-home mom, must hustle to find work. She lucks out when she’s hired by a down-at-the-heels PR company in the city. Her first assignment, persuading the owner of a Chinese restaurant chain to publish an apology to his striking workers, is a huge success. Even the boss’ sudden death doesn’t slow Helen down. She persuades two more male clients, drowning in bad publicity, to go the apology route. Her crisis management skills attract the attention of a huge PR company, which recruits her. This is not some empowerment fairy tale; Dee keeps the action grounded and credible. In an already dramatic story, the most sizzling drama comes after Helen accidentally meets an old childhood classmate at a movie premiere. Hamilton Barth is a Hollywood superstar, a deeply troubled man with a history of benders and blackouts; a greatly magnified version of Ben. When Helen subsequently gets a rescue-me call from Hamilton in a Vermont motel, the already brisk pace becomes breakneck. There’s a young woman missing, bloody sheets and an amnesiac Hamilton willing to believe the worst of himself. It will take all Helen’s crisis management skills to resolve this one.
With his sixth novel, Pulitzer finalist Dee has written a page turner without sacrificing a smidgen of psychological insight. What a triumph.