An overly schematic but powerful study of both marriage and medical care.

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SO MUCH FOR THAT

The American health-care system decimates the emotions and finances of one well-meaning citizen in the latest novel by the provocative Shriver (The Post-Birthday World, 2007, etc.).

We open with a bank-account figure: $731,778.56, which is how much 50-something Shep Knacker has squirreled away for retirement. That’s a decent nest egg for a professional handyman like him, but he wants to make his savings let him live like a prince. To that end, he plans to move his family to Pemba, a tiny island off the coast of Zanzibar where his dollars will go much farther. But his wife, Glynis, is diagnosed with cancer, and the novel’s grimly punning title encapsulates what follows: During the course of a year, Shep is forced to abandon his dream as Glynis’ aggressive treatments drains his savings. Shriver is captivatingly, unflinchingly expert at exposing how families intuit and sometimes manipulate each other’s personality tics, and the novel is at its finest when it shows the parrying between the put-upon Shep and Glynis, who remains a harridan even as her body is ravaged. It’s shakier as a polemic against a health-care system that bankrupts families. Shriver embeds the outrage in Shep’s friend and co-worker Jackson, who delivers jeremiads on how government and health-care corporations connive against the common man. (The book is mostly set in 2005, before Congress’ healthcare reform efforts.) Metaphorically overstating the point that institutional greed affects individual vitality, the book also chronicles Jackson’s botched penis-enlargement surgery, and that’s just part of the piling-on: It also tracks the miseries of Jackson’s ailing teenage daughter and Shep’s rapidly declining father. Yet while this sometimes feels like an op-ed writ large, Shriver’s skill at characterization is so solid that Jackson never becomes a plot device. And the ingenious, upbeat ending smartly shows just how far the rat race separates us from our better selves.

An overly schematic but powerful study of both marriage and medical care.

Pub Date: March 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-145858-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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