Spencer's novel makes some trenchant observations about love and loss, about growing up and growing apart, but in the end,...

RIVER UNDER THE ROAD

The story of two couples, recounted across 14 years through the lens of a dozen parties.

Parties are often where we reveal ourselves, inadvertently or otherwise—we get drunk, we flirt, we say things we shouldn't have said. But if such a notion is central to this novel (each chapter opens with an invitation, as if to highlight the conceit), too often the narrative meanders, losing sight of its characters, or of their unhappiness, in the mechanics of the social whirl. At the center of the action are Thaddeus, a screenwriter, and his wife, Grace, an artist who drifts away from her art as the pair moves from bohemia into the bourgeoisie. “Their marriage seemed stale, maybe it was dying,” Spencer (Man in the Woods, 2010, etc.) tells us. Or, as Grace murmurs to her husband one evening, regretfully, “Not exactly the life we had in mind.” These dissatisfactions are only exacerbated by the presence of the second couple, especially the husband, Jennings, who is both a local Lothario and a kind of handyman/fixer on Thaddeus and Grace’s Hudson River estate. Money is an issue throughout the novel—who has it and who doesn’t, what one must do to get it, what happens when it goes away. More to the point, however, this is a book about the vicissitudes of love. Thaddeus and Grace, Jennings and his wife, Muriel: they love one another, after a fashion, but in both marriages, love is not enough. Each character is beset by his or her own frustrations, by the difference between what they wanted and what they’ve got. That may be a universal condition, but as the novel progresses, the world it portrays begins to narrow and the relationships fall into predictable lamentations, mostly involving the inability of privilege to console. Such a conflict can be compelling, but the characters here lack a certain necessary self-awareness, leaving their disappointments (with the world, with one another) to register mostly at the level of complaint. “What…is happiness anyhow?” Thaddeus pouts. “It’s so stupid. Even the word happiness sounds sort of ridiculous. I don’t care about happiness. I just want to be with you.”

Spencer's novel makes some trenchant observations about love and loss, about growing up and growing apart, but in the end, it can't quite get out of its own way.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-266005-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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