Scribner has done his homework on everything from radicalism to perfumes, but in service to an overly schematic plot.

THE OREGON EXPERIMENT

An East Coast couple grows increasingly entangled in the political and emotional lives of Oregon radicals.

As the third novel by Scribner (The GoodLife, 2000; Miracle Girl, 2003) opens, Scanlon and Naomi are a married couple heading west under a cloud of anxiety. Scanlon is an academic who specializes in anarchist and secessionist movements, but a much-derided journal article has shut him out of teaching jobs at first-tier universities. Naomi, for her part, is worried about her pregnancy and unhappy to be living in a fogbound Oregon college town. But there are upsides: The clean air appears to have revived the acute sense of smell she lost in a car accident, which ended her career as a perfume designer, and Scanlon has plenty of source material for his research. Indeed, as Scanlon becomes increasingly involved in one such movement he’s eventually appointed its leader—which on top of being bad form academically puts him in the awkward company of Sequoia, a tempting Earth goddess type. Naomi, meanwhile, struggles to manage the new baby while growing closer to Clay, a young, brooding and sometimes violent anarchist. Scribner realistically captures the nature of secessionist movements, but he leaves room for humor, usually at Scanlon’s expense: He’s routinely put into humiliating situations with his skeptical department chair or academic colleagues, and sweats over his attraction to Sequoia. And writing about Naomi gives Scribner’s prose an interesting degree of sensual detail; she captures a surprising amount of information through smell. Still, the book feels overwritten, full of dry subplots and scenes packed with needless detail. Eventually, the plot strains credulity: Scanlon’s academic colleagues hardly bat an eye that he’s lost his objectivity in leading the anarchist collective, and the collective is largely oblivious that they’re thesis fodder. The author resolves the many plot threads, but requires a contrived ending to get there.

Scribner has done his homework on everything from radicalism to perfumes, but in service to an overly schematic plot.

Pub Date: June 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-59478-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more