A would-be tragedy that plays unsuccessfully on the inherent fascination with sex and death.

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A HAPPY MARRIAGE

Autobiographical work from novelist/screenwriter Yglesias (Dr. Neruda’s Cure for Evil, 1996, etc.) chronicles a man’s confrontation with the imminent death of his wife.

The novel begins with the 1975 meeting of precocious young novelist Enrique Sabas and beautiful, artistic Margaret Cohen in his walk-up Greenwich Village apartment, then flashes forward to the novel’s present, when she begs him to help her die rather than let her suffer anymore from terminal cancer. From there, odd-numbered chapters chronicle the couple’s courtship and flawed marriage; even-numbered ones return to the present, as Enrique, now a successful screenwriter, searches for the strength to help his wife bid loved ones farewell and die with dignity. The flashbacks illuminate Enrique’s psychology but give the narrative a disjointed quality. The back story devolves into confessional: Enrique blames himself for unhappiness in their marriage, breast-beating over his lack of sexual self-esteem due to occasional impotence—which makes an absurd combination with a libido depicted as so ravenous that it has strained his relationship with Margaret. Enrique’s painful honesty about his pathological self-consciousness and solipsism might, in lighter doses, pass for self-deprecation, but when he tells us all about the technological wonder of his Treo smartphone before turning his attention to his dying wife, he is both unlikable and impossible to take seriously. Granted, he’s under extreme emotional duress. The frequency with which his mind wanders over trite details unrelated to the dire matters at hand, however, make it exceedingly hard to buy into the tragic scenario the author has set up—that Enrique has only recently become aware that his wife is the love of his life. Near the end, past and present scenes alternate with greater rapidity, contrasting early episodes of romance and sex with the brutal details of Margaret’s progress toward death. Yglesias knows how to pluck the heartstrings but flounders in the execution.

A would-be tragedy that plays unsuccessfully on the inherent fascination with sex and death.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0230-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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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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