Long-simmering tensions boil over in the Shanley household to devastating effect in debut novelist Pierpont’s drama of domestic unravelling.
It’s not that the news contained in the anonymous package is a surprise to Deb: not the hundreds of emails documenting her husband’s affair and certainly not his lover's cliched confessional which accompanies it. It’s that her 11-year-old daughter, Kay, stumbled upon the box first and that she and her 15-year-old brother, Simon, have now read their father's messages (“i can’t explain why i get so sad when you make me so happy”) that makes the reality unbearable. And so begins the dissolution of the Shanleys or, at least, the Shanleys as they once were: Jack, the successful sculptor and not-unlikable narcissist married to Deb, the former ballet dancer who happily traded her career for motherhood. As their marriage crumbles, Jack and Deb set out on separate courses away from New York. Meanwhile, Kay and Simon contend with the loss while navigating their own coming-of-age struggles. We know how the story ends because Pierpont tells us: a spectacularly melancholy interlude midway through puts an end to any suspense. But suspense is hardly the point; it’s the characters’ rich emotional lives that propel the story forward. Deb and Jack and Simon and Kay could easily have been reduced to types—the suffering wife, the womanizing husband, the stoned teenage son, the sensitive tween daughter—but in Pierpont’s hands, they’re alive: human, difficult, and deeply lonely. It’s loneliness that’s at the novel’s core, hitting unsentimentally and with blunt, nauseating force. Which is not to say that there isn’t serious humor among the heartbreak (Kay’s penchant for writing Seinfeld fan fiction is a particular delight), and for all the book’s sadness, much of its lingering force comes from Pierpont’s sharp-witted detailing of human absurdity.
A quietly wrenching family portrait.