A single mother wrestles with her family responsibilities and her desire for romance in this debut novel.
Ally Hughes is a college professor living on the East Coast. She devotes herself wholeheartedly to her daughter Lizzie’s health and happiness, to the extent of ignoring her own. When Jake, a gorgeous student, initiates an affair with Ally, she must decide whether stunning sex will compensate for the guilt she’ll feel in continuing the relationship. Chapters alternate between the one weekend when Ally and Jake share a sex-filled tryst that ends abruptly when she pushes him out and a decade later, when he returns to her life in a surprising way. Now he's a well-known actor (his breakout role was a knight in shining armor), but neither time nor radically different circumstances have changed his devotion to Ally. However, the situation is complicated by the now 20-year-old Lizzie, an aspiring actress herself, who makes a risky choice that affects everyone around her. The tone is rather like if a 21st-century Jane Austen completed an early draft of Persuasion after binge watching Sex and the City. The dialogue is snappy, and the trivia is elevated—characters reference everything from Marxist feminism to Strunk and White to the anarchist hacker group Anonymous in the same breezy manner. But the conflict in Ally’s psyche feels dated for such a self-aware story, rehashing the binary choices between mother or lover, free-spirited happiness or prudish responsibility, though the resolution is a bit more nuanced. Jake’s courtship feels just as old-fashioned, though it retains charm for that very reason.
Ultimately a romantic fantasy disguised by modern riffs, this novel is for those looking for a sexier “Sleeping Beauty” set in the real world.