A warmhearted domestic drama with political undercurrents makes for fun reading.

L.A. WEATHER

Twelve pivotal months in the life of a Jewish and Catholic Mexican American family in West Los Angeles.

It's 2016. Three-year-old twins miraculously survive drowning in the first scene, setting the tone of melodrama cut with comedy that Escandón maintains throughout her homage to Mexican telenovelas. Expect financial and medical catastrophes, marital discord, sexual passion, brand name dropping, and mouthwatering meals. At center are the Alvarados. Oscar’s ancestors became landowners in California while it was still part of Mexico; artist Keila’s Jewish parents escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to Mexico as children. Their heritages have merged into a seemingly idyllic marriage for almost 40 years. But recently, Oscar has retreated from involvement with his family, becoming obsessed with The Weather Channel instead. Frustrated and furious, Keila announces she wants a divorce, but the grown Alvarado daughters convince their parents to work on the marriage for one year. Meanwhile, all three daughters hide their own private problems and marital issues. Celebrity chef Claudia has a little stealing habit. Architect Olivia, who conceived her twins through in vitro fertilization, is fighting with her cartoonishly awful husband about the remaining embryos. Despite a husband in San Francisco, social media maven Patricia still lives with her parents along with the son who was conceived when she was raped at 14. As the Alvarados fight and unite repeatedly, the plot incorporates broader issues including climate change, gender politics, immigration, and a presidential election.

A warmhearted domestic drama with political undercurrents makes for fun reading.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-80256-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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Another skillful, pensive exploration of Strout’s fundamental credo: “We are all mysteries.”

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OH WILLIAM!

Pulitzer Prize winner Strout offers a third book linked to writer Lucy Barton, this time reflecting on her complex relationship with her first husband, before and after their divorce.

While Anything Is Possible (2017) told the stories of people among whom Lucy grew up in poverty in Amgash, Illinois, this new novel returns to the direct address of My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016). Lucy’s beloved second husband, David, has recently died, and “in my grief for him I have felt grief for William as well,” she tells us. Her stuttering, stop-and-start narrative drops this and other pronouncements and then moves on, circling back later to elucidate and elaborate. After the pain of their separation subsided, Lucy and William became friends, close enough so that when he begins having night terrors at age 69, he confides in Lucy rather than his much younger third wife. (Wife No. 2 was among the many infidelities that broke up his marriage to Lucy.) Perhaps it’s because the terrors are related to his mother, Catherine, who “seemed central to our marriage,” Lucy tells us. “We loved her. Oh, we loved her.” Well, sometimes; Lucy’s memories reveal a deep ambivalence. Catherine patronized her, referring frequently to the poverty of Lucy’s background and her unfamiliarity with the ways of more affluent people. So it’s a shock to Lucy as well as William when he learns that his mother was married before, abandoned a baby daughter to marry his father, and came from a family even poorer than Lucy’s. Their road trip to Maine prompts William’s habitual coping mechanism of simply checking out, being present but not really there, which is the real reason Lucy left him. Strout’s habitual themes of loneliness and the impossibility of ever truly knowing another person are ubiquitous in this deeply sad tale, which takes its title from Lucy’s head-shaking acknowledgment that her ex will never change, cannot change the remoteness at the core of his personality.

Another skillful, pensive exploration of Strout’s fundamental credo: “We are all mysteries.”

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8943-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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