Though Redel has chosen a difficult topic, too often she opts for “a-w-w” moments rather than unflinching confrontations.

BEFORE EVERYTHING

Friends and family gather to cajole, comfort, and/or castigate a dying woman.

In a nonlinear accumulation of vignettes spanning several decades, Redel (Make Me Do Things, 2013, etc.) presents the life of Anna, whose charisma and beauty have, over the years, made her an icon in many lives. When, in middle age, Anna's rare lymphoma returns, she foregoes treatment and chooses home hospice. A swirl of friends descends, and their individual stories are woven into the fabric of her waning days. There are the Old Friends, women she’s known since grade school: recovering addict Helen, now a famous, globe-trotting painter; Ming, a high-powered lawyer whose daughter has a seizure disorder; Caroline, caregiver of a perpetually needy bipolar older sister; and Molly, a lesbian, daughter of a drunken, cruel mother. The Valley friends, women who for the last 20 years have shared Anna’s life in shabby-chic Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts, are feeling displaced. Her two brothers, both physicians, and her separated-but-not-necessarily-estranged husband, Reuben, are also in attendance, as well as her oldest son, Julian, who confides a secret only to Anna: she is going to be a grandmother. Valley and Old friends alike urge Anna to stay alive, and occasionally she rallies, eating a quart of ice cream and dragooning the Old Friends into an impromptu road trip. In this teeming cast of high achievers, individual personalities are hard to distinguish. Despite being constantly reminded that Anna is a queen bee, a mathlete, and a rock star whose blues band mates adore her, we learn little about her, specifically how she has managed to amass such a vast and loyal following. The prose is accomplished and the images are striking even if Redel can’t resist two descriptive phrases when one will do. Only one scene in the novel lifts it, and us, out of our comfort zone: when Anna crashes a Canyon Ranch–type spa, bringing home to its patrons just how ephemeral “wellness” can really be.

Though Redel has chosen a difficult topic, too often she opts for “a-w-w” moments rather than unflinching confrontations.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2257-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 4, 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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