A story that raises tricky questions about relationships between women and men, the longevity of family ties, and the...

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CHANGING SPACES

A fast-moving novel from King (The Stones Speak, 2009, etc.) about a woman’s search for self.

As the story opens, a husband tells his wife of 40 years that he’s leaving her for another, younger woman. The suddenness of the news is surprising, and the shock at first unhinges Laura. She’s a 60-year-old grant writer who gave up her shot at a Ph.D. for the sake of her husband Zach’s architecture career. Until now, their life in Oberlin, Ohio, had seemed fulfilling—at least, until she was forced to examine it. After six days of dwelling in an abyss of grief and uncertainty, “without warning, she surfaced.” Laura realizes that she must move on, and readers will follow her eagerly. Instead of looking backward into its protagonist’s hazy past for clues that might have led to the affair, the story travels forward. Laura goes to a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which kick-starts an adventurous series of events. There, she meets intriguing, capricious women; charming, jealous men; and eventually, the firmer side of herself. Using a straightforward, no-frills style that’s light on description, the novel’s main offering is its empowering, new-world/new-self theme. The story careens forward, mostly in a credible way, after launching from a startling revelation. The characters are clearly drawn, and though the headlong pace doesn’t allow them much time to develop, each person is shown to have his or her own secrets. Some lessons are predictable; for example, as much as Laura struggles to learn “how not to be Mrs. Zachary Feldman,” she finds that learning how to be herself is harder. Other lessons, however, hum underneath the surface. How far can she go to fashion a new self before the good parts of the original evaporate in the dry desert air? How can she conceive the boundaries of her self as they cross into and withdraw from others’? Laura’s perspective dominates, but passages from other characters’ points of view reveal how much we all might be living behind partial disguises, even from ourselves.

A story that raises tricky questions about relationships between women and men, the longevity of family ties, and the friendships within literal and symbolic sisterhoods.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1891386435

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Plain View Press

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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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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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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