A enjoyable read with little substance.

READ REVIEW

JOODY

Intertwining stories chronicle the life and misspent times of a negligent mother.

Joody—she changed the spelling in school so she’d come before girls with the name’s conventional rendering—is a careless narcissist who leaves a path of emotional destruction behind her. Besides ex-boyfriends and her sister, victims include three living children and one dead baby whom she delivers at home, wraps in a blanket and stuffs in a cupboard, heading off to work after placing the placenta in the trash. “What about the baby?” her straight-arrow sister, Janet, asks. “It just kind of slipped out,” Joody replies. This tale of a dysfunctional American family comes into focus through the eyes of four narrators, including Joody herself; her sister; Joody’s confused, angry son, Bryce; and his concerned but alienated probable-father, Brent. Through each lens, readers view a slightly different aspect of this troubling but seemingly untroubled woman—a “floozy,” in her sister’s words, since “slut and whore are too harsh.” Although the technique of telling a tale from different points of view has worked for masters like Faulkner and Bierce, here it falls short. For one thing, the voices all sound the same, with comma splices being just one mannerism each narrator shares. Nevertheless, the book draws poignant if sketchy pictures of a strained relationship between the night-and-day sisters and a son and father trying to act their roles. Joody’s character is believable: Like many crazies, she has a sure instinct for self-preservation, often independent of survival for those around her. “No matter the verb, she was the object,” her sister observes. Yet for a potentially heavy subject, the book has a peculiar lightness, and Joody’s own take on the situation can be downright funny. Her sister and nerdy boyfriend, for instance, are “dweebs in heat.” Despite some entertaining lines, the book never really wades beyond the emotional shallows. To its credit, though, it doesn’t moralize about Joody’s condition. To its detriment, it doesn’t fully explore or explain it.

A enjoyable read with little substance.

Pub Date: April 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456336554

Page Count: 118

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

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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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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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