It’s all mush, but the feminist angle may keep the fans loyal.

THE LAKE OF DREAMS

Family secrets dominate this sluggish melodrama, a second novel that recalls the corrosive secret at the heart of Edwards’s surprise bestseller The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (2005). 

Lucy Jarrett is front and center. When she was 17, she made what she felt was a fateful decision. She harshly dismissed her father’s suggestion they go fishing on the lake; he went alone and accidentally drowned. Guilt-stricken, Lucy unceremoniously dumped her Native American boyfriend Keegan and left her hometown, the eponymous Lake of Dreams in upstate New York, to attend college out West. Then came a career as a hydrologist working for multi-nationals and a string of short-lived romances. Now, pushing 30 and unemployed, she’s living with her latest lover, the Japanese engineer Yoshi, outside Tokyo. She flies home after hearing her mother has had an accident. It’s minor, but Lucy is surrounded by change. Her mother has a new admirer; her uncle Art, who owns the family hardware store, is spearheading a contested lakeside development; and Keegan, married but separated, has a successful glassworks. How curious, then, that amid these upheavals, the jet-lagged Lucy should zero in on the past after discovering some hidden papers. She learns about her great-great-aunt Rose. Back in England in 1910, the 15-year-old had been seduced, impregnated and abandoned by the lord of the manor, that scoundrel. After traveling to America with her brother Joseph, she had been separated from her daughter after marching with suffragettes. All this Lucy learns from letters she has stolen from the Historical Society. Why Lucy should feel a life-changing connection to Rose is never clear; her problem is she’s commitment-shy, as shown by her renewed interest in Keegan (forget about Yoshi). The rush of events near the end includes the discovery of an old will, an anguished confession about her dad’s boating accident and Lucy’s trashing of the family store; being the heroine, she gets a pass. 

It’s all mush, but the feminist angle may keep the fans loyal.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02217-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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