A compelling and enjoyable ride with five women who supposedly have it all.

ALL THE RIGHT MISTAKES

A novel focuses on the choices and challenges of five 40-year-old women who formed friendships as motivated Dartmouth undergraduates.

The book’s main characters are affluent, highly intelligent, married women with children. Their stories are narrated in alternating chapters with the exception of Heather Hall, the “supernova” of the group and a pivot for the other four. Heather is the COO of a hot, new tech company. Wealthy and generous, she always hosts their annual girls’ weekends. As the story opens, she is preoccupied with her book launch, so she is hosting in absentia this year. Self-involved and oblivious to her friends’ problems, Heather relentlessly sends texts, tweets, and emails exuding manic positivity. The remaining four are Carmen Jones, Martha Adams West, Elizabeth Smith, and Sara Beck. Carmen was a brilliant student whose career plans were torpedoed by an unplanned pregnancy and resultant marriage. Her dreams for more children never materialized, and her life is unfulfilling. Elizabeth, an exacting “big firm attorney” with a 3-year-old son and a loving but distracted stay-at-home husband, desperately wants a second child. With four young kids and a full-time position as a lawyer, Sara is exhausted by the demands of her job and angry that she is responsible for all of the household management. Martha, a physician, is at home after having two children and getting pregnant with a third. Married to a successful doctor named Robert, she is conflicted about returning to work after her baby is born. As trying as their situations are at the start, the friends are in store for a lot more pain. Unfortunate, terrible, and tragic incidents occur, and all the women must reevaluate their situations and decisions.

Heather’s blockbuster book serves as a catalyst for the four when they realize that each represents one of the titular Four BIG Mistakes of Women Who Will Never Lead or Win. Mistake No. 1: Opting Out (Carmen); Mistake No. 2: Ramping Off (Martha); Mistake No. 3: Half-Assing It (Sara); and Mistake No. 4: Ignoring the Fertility Cliff (Elizabeth). The four are blindsided by Heather’s simplistic and cruel assessment of their lives. But they are at critical junctures, and some of Heather’s criticisms hit close to home. The complexities of the issues are often subsumed by Jamison’s prosaic analyses. For example, during a school conference for one of her sons, Martha is stung by the dean’s dismissal of her desire to return to practicing medicine. Deflated, Martha muses: “We truly can’t win. And shame is the weapon of choice. The dean would never have told Robert not to go to work.” For Sara, who must work full time as an attorney and indispensable parent, “the Fight was always about the same thing—who was doing more, especially more of the shit work.” Although the author does not contribute anything new to the dilemma of women’s roles and work-life balance, the format is engrossing and the stories unfold at a satisfying pace. The husbands are mainly contrivances who serve to highlight the intriguing issues of the five women. The resolutions and reconciliations are effectively explored and have an undercurrent of religious ardency. Heather eventually acknowledges that her four friends “are using their resilience, optimism, courage, and persistence to create lives that are perfect for them.”

A compelling and enjoyable ride with five women who supposedly have it all.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-709-8

Page Count: 328

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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