In Snyder-Carroll’s first novel, a married couple grapples with secrets and lies below the facade of their life in a picture-perfect Florida community.
Like Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), Hester Murphy spends much of her life confronting sexual mores, shame and deception. As the book opens, a hurricane is wreaking havoc on Pleasant Palms Trailer Park, where Hester and her husband, Al, have been living for years. While looking for her husband to make sure he is safe, Hester finds him in a compromising position—in bed with their adopted daughter, Nina, who appears to be gravely injured if not dead. From this gripping beginning, Snyder-Carroll jumps back and forth in time to present some of the sordid details of Hester’s life, her marriage to Al and the circumstances that brought Nina into their lives. As Hester tries to decide how to proceed with the choices before her, the anecdotes about her past demonstrate that “being married to Al Murphy was, since the first day she met him, all she ever wanted”—an obsession that leads her down a dangerous path. Snyder-Carroll creates a complex female heroine in Hester, who is, refreshingly, not always sympathetic; however, it is unclear how much of Hester’s perspective is meant to be unreliable. To the reader, Al’s flaws are so clearly delineated that Hester’s blindness appears almost dense rather than pitiable and rooted in complicated sexual obsession. The secondary characters can come across as a bit flat, including Nina, whom Hester suspects of being “a little actress who wants some attention.” The constant jumps in time are confusing, and the plot grows more and more soapy until it reaches its final Gothic twist, which is straight out of a Faulkner novel, without the stunning prose. Snyder-Carroll seems to be trying to weave in too many stories at once—a thriller plot of infidelity and murder, a satire of suburban social mores, even a moral and religious meditation on sexual impropriety. Focusing on one of these threads and narrowing her gaze might have helped shape some of the ideas into a more compact, readable novel.
A sprawling novel of adultery and deception whose ideas don’t quite live up to their potential.