Ambitious and involving, capturing the zeitgeist of the liberal intelligentsia of the era.

THE INTERESTINGS

Wolitzer (The Uncoupling, 2011) follows a group of friends from adolescence at an artsy summer camp in 1974 through adulthood and into late-middle age as their lives alternately intersect, diverge and reconnect.

Middle-class suburban Julie becomes Jules when a group of more sophisticated kids from Manhattan include her in their clique at Camp Spirit-in-the-Woods in upstate New York. Her lifelong best friend becomes beautiful Ash, an aspiring actress. Ash’s older brother is sexy bad-boy Goodman. Cathy, who wants to dance, becomes Goodman’s girlfriend. Jonah, the ethereally handsome, slightly withdrawn son of a famous folksinger, is musically gifted. And then there is Ethan: homely, funny and a brilliant cartoonist. Although he and Jules are immediately soul mates, she rejects his physical advances, unable to work up any sexual attraction. After this first idyllic summer, the novel cuts to 2009 when Jules, now living a modest middle-class life as a therapist married to a medical technician, receives her annual Christmas letter from Ethan and Ash, who are married and wildly successful. As she looks back, the reader follows the evolution of the group. While still in high school, Cathy and Goodman break up in disastrous fashion; they both disappear from the group but not without causing permanent repercussions. For one thing, to Jules’ surprise, Goodman’s grieving sister Ash and Ethan become an unlikely but devoted couple. Jonah, who evolves as the inevitable sympathetic gay character in a novel tracing social mores through the last decades of the 20th century, gives up music for engineering. Ash becomes a feminist director and marries Ethan, the true genius of the group, who experiences major creative and financial success with his long-running animated series. Jules, who has given up acting to become a therapist and has married sweet but unambitious Dennis, tries not to envy her friend’s success. Secrets are kept for decades among the six “Interestings”; resentments are nursed; loyalties are tested with mixed results.

Ambitious and involving, capturing the zeitgeist of the liberal intelligentsia of the era.

Pub Date: April 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59448-839-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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