Strong’s debut novel traces a mother-daughter bond that must be rebuilt after a life-changing tragedy.
College professors Stephen and Maya Taylor have made a lovely life for themselves, commuting from tree-lined Brooklyn to teach philosophy and English at Columbia University. As their children, Ellie and Ben, grow closer to adulthood, the family seems to hang by a thread. After years of Ellie using drugs, making mistakes, and sleeping with the wrong boys, Maya ships her away to Florida to care for an old friend’s child. Maya, an unmothered mother who coped with the pressures of parenting by reading, locking herself in her office, and running the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan for what seems like “half the day,” no longer sleeps with her husband. Stephen’s patience is tried by Ben’s announcement that he's giving up his soccer scholarship and taking a break from college. The novel alternates between Ellie in 2011 and Maya in 2013, a before-and-after exploration of what tragedy and mistakes can do to families and friendships. Ellie’s bad habits follow her to Florida and result in irrevocable loss. The accident, which is not elaborated on until the final pages, seems anticlimactic after being alluded to throughout the novel. Though Ellie’s mistake is the lynchpin of the book, most of the story unpacks Maya’s life—her absent mother, her emotionally unstable father, her career, her marriage, her closest friendship, and a web of relationships with graduate students. Ellie’s brief but sweet relationship with her mother’s friend and former student Annie is warmly drawn but leaves readers wishing Ellie was the subject of the same deep character analysis Maya received.
A family drama that illustrates trauma’s reverberations beyond those directly involved.