WHAT IS MISSING by Michael Frank


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Life gets complicated when two people quickly move from drinks to passion to cohabitation and trying to conceive amid family pressures and the inescapable burdens of the past.

Henry, a successful New York fertility doctor of 55, meets Costanza, an Italian American translator of 39, while he is speaking at a conference in Florence and shepherding his son Andrew around museums. But Andrew and Costanza have already met, and something has clicked there, too. Frank, a literary critic, showed himself to be a smart, observant writer with his first book, The Mighty Franks (2017), a memoir of Hollywood and familial dysfunction. So he avoids anything as obvious as a simple romantic triangle in his fiction debut. Costanza meets Henry again in Manhattan, where she soon agrees to move in with him and shortly thereafter begins the IVF protocol because of her age and the trouble she had conceiving with her late husband, a famous Roth-like novelist. Frank is insightful and sympathetic on the mental and physical toll of her treatments, and he has a strong sense of family dynamics and crackling dialogue, especially in any scene featuring Henry’s crotchety father or cynical other son. But the novel has a few problems. The cast is almost exclusively white and wealthy, which may dilute sympathy for all the shadows that darken their doorman-building lives. Hints about the plot’s central revelation are fairly obvious, including moments of puzzling recognition and Andrew’s alluding to Shakespeare’s Hamlet and saying, “I am too much in the sun.” Some of the writing tends to melodrama, and the sex scenes can be painful: “He didn’t know if he was inside her or she was inside him. Their crotches were joined, soaked; electric.” This from a fertility specialist?

An uneven but overall impressive debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-374-29838-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2019