A fictional case study, at once pedantic and riveting.

COST

Robinson (A Perfect Stranger: And Other Stories, 2005, etc.) offers the unrelentingly pessimistic story of a woman coming to grips with her son’s heroin addiction.

Julia, a divorced artist and art professor in Manhattan, has two grown sons: responsible Steven, who has been working as a conservation activist in Seattle but is returning east to attend law school, and his younger brother Jack, an erstwhile musician who has always been the family risk-taker and troublemaker. The novel opens on the glum scene of Julia attempting to entertain her difficult, aging parents at her Maine vacation house. Already tense from trying to be a dutiful daughter despite her resentment toward her rigid father Edward and her impatience with her placid mother Katharine, who is actually losing her memory, Julia falls to pieces when Steven arrives and admits his suspicion that Jack has become a heroin addict. She immediately calls her ex-husband Wendell who goes to Jack’s squalid apartment and drags him to Maine for a family intervention including distraught Edward and clueless Katharine. Before any real conversation can take place, Jack goes into withdrawal. A desperate Wendell calls 911, and Jack is hospitalized. The family now rally around professional interventionist Ralph Carpenter, who arrives shortly before Jack, having escaped from the hospital, is arrested while attempting to rob a drug store. After Julia unwisely puts up her cottage as security that Jack will show up for his trial, he is allowed to enter Ralph’s rehab program in Florida. At first Julia remains in partial denial, unable to grasp how grave Jack’s condition is, but the “hypnotic and dreadful” Ralph gives Julia and readers a full course in the horrors and hopelessness of heroin addiction, so no one is surprised when Jack shoots up and is kicked out of the rehab program Ralph runs. Meanwhile, family dynamics are deeply affected for better and worse until Jack hits the inevitable bottom.

A fictional case study, at once pedantic and riveting.

Pub Date: June 18, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-27187-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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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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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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