An engaging and hope-filled novel that serves as a reminder of the difficult but joyful game that family life can be.

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A STOP IN THE PARK

Dissatisfied with his crumbling marriage, hectic workload and chaotic family life, a Washington, D.C., attorney with anger management issues resolves to change his life.

Strack’s moving novel depicts a desperate modern family’s struggle to restore the sense of simple fun and romance that once united them. Since his recent promotion to attorney manager, Michael Stolis is overworked but making enough money to temporarily patch the holes of his life. When his two daughters aren’t watching television or eating junk food, it’s only because Michael is berating them and his wife, Jamie, for allowing it. Jamie, a former journalist who left her career to become a mom, is equally miserable. To distract herself from the poisonous atmosphere, she spends hours shopping online and flirting with other men on Facebook. Michael has numerous passions—chess, running, healthy eating. One day, while walking through Dupont Circle toward another disappointing family dinner, Michael slips away from the family in search of a blitz chess competitor and meets Rufus, a retired black man Michael immediately envies for his “demeanor [that] exuded serenity.” A jovial, sagelike presence, Rufus is an excellent player but doesn’t care about winning, a fact ever-competitive Michael fails to comprehend, especially after he gets creamed. But when Jamie finally boots Michael from the house, which “could be the beginning of the marriage bust” that neither person wants, Rufus may be just the man to help him restore the lighthearted nature of his early marriage. Hopping back and forth between Michael’s and Jamie’s perspectives, Strack delivers piercing dialogue and intense emotional struggle that fashions a chesslike battle for their daughters’ approval and the upper hand. Filled with moments of tenderness and insight, particularly in Michael’s attempts to make his wife and daughters laugh, Strack’s novel expertly captures the nuances of a complicated marriage, including the small tics that can become explosions of contempt. Certain metaphors feel heavy-handed (after discovering a hornets’ nest outside the kitchen window, Jamie sprays it and later notes how, like the nest, “She had a body, but it was vacant”), and the story often errs on the side of melodrama, but Strack writes with clear, thoughtful and passionate prose, making for a tense and compulsively readable story of family redemption.

An engaging and hope-filled novel that serves as a reminder of the difficult but joyful game that family life can be.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2012

ISBN: 9781475150995

Page Count: 366

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

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A novel written for and about mothers but not for the faint of heart; it offers no easy answers.

THE PUSH

A finely wrought psychological study of motherhood and inherited trauma.

Blythe stands outside, watching a perfect family as they move through the small joys of their Christmas Eve preparations. She has come to deliver her written story, one that occasionally includes flashbacks to her mother's and grandmother's lives, so that she may explain to this family—her former husband, his second wife, their child, and, most of all, Blythe’s own daughter—what went wrong. The book that unfolds is this novel, and while it begins with a college meet-cute between Blythe and Fox, it truly begins with the story of Etta, who “tried very hard to be the woman she was expected to be” but battled depression that eventually led to suicide, and her daughter, Cecilia, who left altogether when Blythe was 11. Interweaving memories of her life with Fox and their daughter, Violet, with the memories and voices of these two women is meant to establish a pattern: Because she comes from a line of struggling mothers, Blythe herself could only expect to struggle as a mother, and struggle she does. Violet is a difficult baby who becomes a troubled child, but Fox sees little evidence of her problems and blames Blythe for not loving her enough. When they have a son who dies in infancy, in a terrible accident, their marriage falls apart. Blythe continues to worry for, and even fear, Violet, and then her loneliness drives her to befriend Fox’s new wife. Her delivery of the pages of her story on that frosty Christmas Eve is meant as both repentance and warning; she fears that Gemma and Fox’s son could be in danger from Violet.

A novel written for and about mothers but not for the faint of heart; it offers no easy answers.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-98-488166-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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