Although neither the plot nor the characters quite jell, Dean (This Human Season, 2007) has a darkly optimistic,...

THE IDEA OF LOVE

Brittle, sometimes brutal comedy of sex and marriage shows British and American ex-pats spending some very unhappy years in a very unromanticized South of France.

British pharmaceuticals salesman Richard lives “on the crossroads of rip-you-off-Riviera and rob-you-blind-Provence” with his French wife Valérie and 13-year-old son Maxence, who may or may not have serious psychological problems. Valérie’s parents live next door, mostly on Richard’s largesse. Drawn with few redeeming characteristics, Valérie is not only cold and lazy but seems to dislike Max. Unhappy Richard claims to yearn for an intimacy he can’t find with either Valérie or the string of women he sleeps with while traveling for his job. Valérie and Richard socialize increasingly with their equally unhappily married neighbors, artistic but shallow American Jeff and British Rachel, a devout Christian. Gradually Valérie decides she’s in love with Jeff, and Richard finds himself drawn to Rachel. Just as tensions heat up, Rachel pressures Jeff to travel with her to Africa to save orphans, realizes she has been duped—the “orphans” are not what they seem—and loses her faith. Meanwhile Richard goes to Africa to open a new territory for anti-depressants, has a moral epiphany and decides to quit his sleazy job. When Rachel learns of Valérie and Jeff’s affair, she returns to England with daughter Maud, the one human being for whom Jeff genuinely cares. Richard wants to leave France too, but not without Max; Rachel demands custody, even though the boy hates his mother. Cut off from his family, without a job, Richard slides into a drunken nervous breakdown. Eventually he connects with Rachel, and they begin a long-distance love affair just as Valérie and Jeff’s affair begins to cool. Whether Richard can find happiness remains unclear, but his shiftless yet loving in-laws may point the way.

Although neither the plot nor the characters quite jell, Dean (This Human Season, 2007) has a darkly optimistic, intellectually humanistic sensibility that recalls Iris Murdoch.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-15-101385-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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

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The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

REGRETTING YOU

When tragedy strikes, a mother and daughter forge a new life.

Morgan felt obligated to marry her high school sweetheart, Chris, when she got pregnant with their daughter, Clara. But she secretly got along much better with Chris’ thoughtful best friend, Jonah, who was dating her sister, Jenny. Now her life as a stay-at-home parent has left her feeling empty but not ungrateful for what she has. Jonah and Jenny eventually broke up, but years later they had a one-night stand and Jenny got pregnant with their son, Elijah. Now Jonah is back in town, engaged to Jenny, and working at the local high school as Clara’s teacher. Clara dreams of being an actress and has a crush on Miller, who plans to go to film school, but her father doesn't approve. It doesn’t help that Miller already has a jealous girlfriend who stalks him via text from college. But Clara and Morgan’s home life changes radically when Chris and Jenny are killed in an accident, revealing long-buried secrets and forcing Morgan to reevaluate the life she chose when early motherhood forced her hand. Feeling betrayed by the adults in her life, Clara marches forward, acting both responsible and rebellious as she navigates her teenage years without her father and her aunt, while Jonah and Morgan's relationship evolves in the wake of the accident. Front-loaded with drama, the story leaves plenty of room for the mother and daughter to unpack their feelings and decide what’s next.

The emotions run high, the conversations run deep, and the relationships ebb and flow with grace.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1642-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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