Lost Children ArchiveLost Children Archive is a complex novel involving sensory perception through sound and echo. The novel focuses on a family of four—husband, wife, boy girl. No names.

Husband and wife met four years before the story begins, when they were recording a soundscape together in New York City. They were part of a large team of people working for New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. The project was intended “to sample and collect all the keynotes and the soundmarks that were emblematic of the city…The two were paired up and given the task of recording all the languages spoken in the city, over a period of four calendar years.”

At the start of the novel the NYU project has ended and the couple is each deciding on a new project. The husband has a 10 year old son from a prior marriage. His wife has died and that is all we know. The wife has a five year old daughter from a relationship. The wife is partly (or wholly) of Mexican descent. And that is also all we know. Standing in line at her daughter’s school, the wife meets Manuela, whose two older daughters have crossed the border into America and are being held in a detention center. The wife decides that her next project will be to create a sound documentary about the children’s crisis at the border.

In the meantime, the husband has decided that he wants to do a sound project on the Apaches, which would require him to move from New York City to the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. Thus begins a road trip. Husband fills four bankers boxes (Boxes I, II, III and IV) with information to take on the trip.  Wife fills Box V. Girl has Box VI (it is empty) and Boy has Box VII (also empty).

Each box is to serve as an archive. “The question is, when, in the future, we dig into our intimate archive, replay our family tape, will it amount to a story? Or will it be sound rubble, noise, and debris?”  Before the family leaves New York City, wife gives Boy a polaroid camera which he uses to photograph events throughout the trip (once he figures out how to use it).

Through the three week drive, father tells stories of the Apaches and they stop at historical sites. Mother takes calls from Manuela and listens to news stories about the refugee crisis. It is all very disturbing. At one point, the family stops at an airstrip in New Mexico where refugee children are being flown out of the country. The boy and the girl refer to the refugee children as the Lost Children.

Husband and wife differ in how they relate to sound. He just listens; her style is more journalistic. They joke that she was a documentarist while he was a documentarian, which meant that “I was more like a chemist and he was more like a librarian.” As the trip progresses it becomes clear that those differences are irreconcilable and that husband and wife will split at the end. “How do you fill the emotional voids that appear when there are sudden, unexpected shifts.”

Wife has a book called the Elegies, which are stories of refugee children traveling to the border. The stories stick with the children. In addition, there is a lot of discussion of sound and echoes.

At the Burro Mountains, the family rents a cottage. While the parents are sleeping the boy decides that he and the girl should leave and search for the lost children, and then find their way through the desert to Echo Mountain. His thought process was deeply influenced by the adult’s obsessions. “Ma would start thinking of us the way she thought of them, the lost children. All the time and with all her heart. And Pa would focus on finding our echoes, instead of all the other echoes he was chasing…Ma and Pa would have to find us.” The children’s solo travels are paralleled by addition elegies.

At different stages of the book the wife opens and catalogues each box. At the end, the reader is treated to each polaroid taken during the trip. The first part of the book is narrated by the wife, the runaway by the Boy and the elegies by a third party. The children’s walk through the desert is described in one 19 page sentence. The book focuses on the child refugee crisis, the distancing of husband and wife and the impact of everything on the children. The book is complex, creative and literary. The author’s notes at the end clarify many of the references. The novel is beautiful, but it is difficult both in its density and its substance. It can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Library by clicking here.

The ResistersThe Resisters is a complex dystopian story envisioning the consequences of an authoritarian technology dependent future. And yet, the story involves baseball!

The story begins with Gwen. As a baby, Gwen “threw her stuffed animals straight through her bedroom doorway. They shot out, never so much as grazing the door frame, and they always hit the wall of the staircase across from her bedroom at a certain spot…”. Gwen had a golden arm.

Gwen’s parents, Eleanor and Grant Cannon-Chastanet were Surplus, Unretrainables, people with discontinued professions. “Factory workers, drivers, and customer representatives, in the beginning—joined…by assorted doctors, lawyers, accountants.” The list goes on. Eleanor had been a lawyer and Grant had been a teacher. Both were deemed unretrainable. “…it was hard not to notice that the Unretrainables did somehow include everyone coppertoned, as well as everyone spyeyed, like Eleanor.”

The family lives in AutoAmerica, and the government is run by Automation and AI rolled up with the Internet.  The family referrs tothe government  as Aunt Nettie. However, AutoAmerica still has a constitution and Eleanor is an activist trying to obtain rights for the Surplus. She has been jailed and tortured a number of times.

The job of the Surplus is to consume. There are MallTrucks for free food and living points for doing as Aunt Nettie decrees. On the other hand, the Netted, who are much more privileged than the Surplus, must produce. Their children can go to college and they have many freedoms.  As you can imagine, the Surplus and the Netted have certain unsubstantiated ideas about each other.

Gwen goes to school and makes a friend, Ondi. Ondi is a handful and spends a lot of time at Gwen’s house and learns to knit. She goes off on a lark and falls afoul of the “Enforcers”. Her family, the Nickelhoffs, live in a Flotsam town on the water. As a result of Ondi’s behavior, the family is set to drift on the high seas with no port of entry for 30 days. AutoAmerica experiences extremes of weather as the result of climate change. The 30 day castoff is miserable and Ondi’s parents blame Eleanor and Grant.  the i8mpact of this punishment is felt throughout the story.

In the meantime, Eleanor establishes a secretive baseball league for the Surplus. The league had to start underground because the Surplus had no baseball fields and “gathering in unsanctioned spaces was Unlawful Assembly.” Gwen becomes a pitcher and is extremely successful.

Aunt Nettie learns about Gwen’s pitching and they offer her the opportunity to try out for the Netted University baseball team. Surplus are rarely given the opportunity to attend Netted University. Gwen is not interested but she is convinced. She manages to bring Ondi with her as a catcher. She has two netted roommates who are kind and outraged about the discrimination experienced by the Surplus. Gwen becomes a pitcher on the team and is very successful. She also develops a relationship with the Coach.

In the meantime, Eleanor has just won a lawsuit against Aunt Nettie regarding Emanations coming from Surplus fields where children play. The Emanations were causing physical ailments. Eleanor is also pursuing litigation involving the food at the Mall Trucks. Aunt Nettie does not like Eleanor!

Gwen is forced to join the AutoAmerica Olympic team and the team ultimately goes to the finals against ChinRussia, where there has been some resistance to the repressive government. During the final game, Eleanor disappears and all kinds of things happen. You will have to read the book to see how it ends.

There is a lot in the book. There are enforcers and drones and GreetingGrams and PigeonGrams. Surplus can cross over and copper tone can PermaDerm their skin and become AngelFair. But mostly, the novel is about the excesses of authoritarianism fueled by artificial intelligence and the resulting discrimination and isolation. The story is deeply rich and the characters are complex and sympathetic. There is a bit too much detail in the futuristic description (bots, talking houses, etc.), but once you get past that the novel is a thought provoking read. You can reserve it at Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Red at the BoneRed at the Bone is about the complexities of love, youth, parenthood and unsatisfied expectations.

When beautiful Iris becomes pregnant at the age of 15, not only is her life turned upside down, but the lives of her mother, Sabe, her father, Sammy Po‘Boy Simmons and her boyfriend, Aubrey Daniels, are thrust into turmoil. The novel describes each person’s reaction to the pregnancy and the arrival of Melody into their lives and gives the reader insight into the earlier lives of each character.

The novel starts with Melody’s 16th birthday coming out party. Melody is living in her grandparent’s house In Brooklyn, along with her father Aubrey. The adults are marveling over the passage of time. An orchestra is playing Prince’s Darling Nikki and Melody is wearing the coming out dress that Iris was never able to wear. Melody is thinking of the history of the house and her ancestors, musing that “I and everything and everyone around me was their dream come true now. If this moment was a sentence, I’d be the period.” This feeling was a far cry from the reactions to Melody’s arrival 16 years prior.

When Sabre discovered that Iris was pregnant with Aburey’s baby, she tried to beat the baby out of her. She was distraught at the fact that a teen pregnancy could happen in her family. “But when your child shows up with a belly and she’s not even full grown yet…you cry into the night until your throat is raw and there’s not another heave left inside you….so even though you feel like you’re never gonna get out of bed again, you rise…You rise in your Lord & Taylor cashmere coat and refuse to let shame stand beside you.”

Despite all the shame and angst, once Melody is born, there is only love. But Iris needs more and she leaves New York and enrolls in college at Oberlin, far away from Aubrey, Melody and her family. And after she graduates, she does not move in with them but lives in an apartment in Manhattan and sees her daughter on weekends.

Each character has a story. Aubrey is raised by a single mother—highly educated but destitute and untraditional. He has seen his friends go through dangerous experiences, both with drugs and gangs. After he graduates from high school, he goes to work in the mailroom of a law firm in the World Trade Center and that, along with raising his daughter, is enough for him. Iris is not interested in spending her life with him.

Sabre’s outlook on life and wealth was shaped by the experiences of her mother and grandparents.  Sabre’s grandmother had a beauty shop in Tulsa and her grandfather had a restaurant. In 1921, white residents burned both down and her grandparents and then two year old mother fled to Chicago to make a new life. That history taught Sabre to hold onto things that could not burn. “I know you hold onto your dreams and you hold onto your money. And I know that paper money burns…you find the men who sell you the blocks of gold. And you take those blocks of gold and stack them beneath your floorboards.”

The novel goes through the normal life cycles and ultimately Sabe and Po’Boy pass on. Iris describes an intense love as feeling “red at the bone—like there was something inside of her undone and bleeding.” The novel is both tragic and hopeful, describing the frustrations and difficulties of the past and the hopes and possibilities of the future. You can reserve the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Olive, Again“Olive Again” is Elizabeth Strout’s follow up to her highly acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge. Similar to the original novel, Olive Again is 13 interrelated short stories, with similar themes.

In the first story, Arrested, we meet Jack Kennison, a slightly disgraced retired Harvard professor. Jack is 74, widowed and in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship with Olive. Jack reflects all of the book’s themes.  He is questioning many of his life decisions and wondering who he really is. This sense of regret and questioning of the individual’s very essence are themes throughout the stories. Jack has an adult daughter who is a lesbian and he has trouble accepting her. The tension between parent and child is also a theme of the book. Jack’s first marriage was fraught and both he and his wife had extramarital affairs. Dysfunction between husband and wife is also a theme of the book. Finally, Jack has not aged well and aging is a theme of the book.

In Cleaning, Kayley Callaghan is an 8th grader living in Crosby, Maine, the location for most of the stories. She comes from a poor single family household and makes money cleaning the house of widow Bertha Babcock. Kayley’s teacher, Mrs. Ringrose, asks Kayley to clean her house as well. While cleaning the Ringrose house, Kayley has some rather peculiar interactions with the elderly Mr. Ringrose. Kayley has an elderly friend, Miss Minnie, who lives in a depressing nursing home. She visits her periodically and her visits are also depressing. Mr. Ringrose ends up in the same nursing home.

Throughout each of the stories Olive has a presence. Some of the stories are specifically about Olive. Olive has a son Christopher who lives in New York City with his wife, her two children from prior relationships and their two children together. Christopher and Olive had not seen each other for 3 years when she invites him to come visit. Christopher’s wife is difficult, the children are unpleasant and the visit does not go well. Olive tells her son she is marrying Jack and he does not take it well.

At the beginning of the novel Olive is 73 and living independently and by the end of the book Olive is 83 years old and living in an adult community. The novel is extraordinarily depressing, focused almost exclusively on the loneliness and regrets in every stage of life, aging and the inevitable end. In one story, two brothers reconnect and they really should be happy. Although their wives do not get along they are a close family. And yet, one of the brothers sort of sums up the entire depressing point of the novel when he says: “And it came to him then that it should never be taken lightly, the essential loneliness of people, that the choices they made to keep themselves from the gaping darkness were choices that required respect.”

The book is beautifully put together, some of the stories are incredibly creative and yet, I am just not convinced that it had to leave the reader with such a sense of hopelessness. You can reserve this novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Grand Central StationMy friend Val lives in Westchester and travels to the city each day for work. She has been describing to me the dystopian feel of her days. An empty ghostlike grand central station, fearful commuters and anxious parents are just a few of her observations. Below is her as yet unpublished COVID-2019  Lament (NYC/March 2020)

 

The cavernous Grand Central is virtually empty

save for those few who trudge through.

Heads down, almost sheepish they go,

to offices that echo with loneliness.

The streets fare better, bikers and walkers

Afraid of the air and surfaces below.

Children on their way to school

Blissfully unaware of the threat.

Parents hold their hands, their only way

to try and keep them safe.

Workers at home, locked in,

Protected against what is out there.

For how long do we burrow,

closets teeming with supplies.

Spring may come and go without notice,

but we can’t

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other is a wonderful novel about all the different kinds of people in the world and their commonality. The novel tells the story of 12 different women all of whom have a common connection—some obvious and some less so.

The story begins with an introduction to Amma. When we first meet her, Amma is 50 years old and preparing for the opening of her play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, at the National Theatre in London. In her earlier years, Amma was quite radical and Amma and her glamorous friend Dominique started their own theatre company, Bush Women Theatre, which lasted for only a very short time. In those days, Amma and Dominique had a ”reputation for heckling shows that offended their political sensibilities.” But of course things change, and so did Amma, who had “spent decades on the fringe…until the mainstream began to absorb what once was radical and she found herself hopeful of joining it.”

Amma and Dominique, both lesbians and both with mixed ancestry, were never romantic but remained the closest of friends. Amma, who has many romantic partners, has a daughter (Yazz) with her gay friend, Roland. Dominiue ultimately leaves London and moves to America. She returns for Amma’s opening.

Carole is a poor child made good. Or so it seems. After an extraordinarily difficult childhood, Carole is mentored by a teacher in her high school and ultimately goes off to Oxford, where “there are very few dark skinned students.” Carole becomes a highly successful banker, marries a white man named Freddy and is greatly resentful that her former teacher, Mrs. King, takes credit for Carole’s success. Carole’s mother, Bummi, is from Nigeria, and Bummi and her husband, Augustine have a hard time finding success in England. Augustine dies and ultimately, after a deep relationship with a woman from her church, Bummi marries a widower named Kofi. Bummi did not realize that Carole’s success would cause Carole to reject her culture.

Carole’s teacher, Mrs. King, is actually Amma’s first childhood friend. Shirley King became a history teacher at Peckham School for Boys and Girls right out of school. She is energetic and passionate at the start but that enthusiasm slowly wanes. Between being black and being a woman she receives very little respect from her peers. “Shirley felt the pressure was now on to be a great teacher and an ambassador for every black person in the world.” One of the other teachers at the school, Penelope, is dismissive of Shirley and rude. As time goes by, however, Penelope and Shirley become friends. Penelope, who is white, was adopted as a child and the desire to know her natural parents has followed her through her life.

Hattie, also known as GG, is 93 years old when we meet her. We learn about her history, her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. One of her great grandchildren is Megan, who chooses to go by Morgan and is in a relationship with Bibi, formerly a man who transitioned to a woman. Despite her age and some difficulty understanding her great granddaughter, Hattie accepts Morgan and Bibi and becomes close to both of them.

At the end of the novel everything (and everyone) comes together in a believable and brilliant manner. Through the stories of all of these diverse people, the novel explains that no matter who we are, no matter our background, our color, our religion or our sexual orientation, we all have commonality and ultimately we are all people with emotions, loves, families and histories. The book is just fabulous and so deserving of the 2019 Booker Prize. You can reserve Girl, Woman, Other at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

“I lived a life where I had less than what I desired. So instead of wanting more, sometimes I just made myself want less. Sometimes I made myself believe that I wanted nothing, not even food or air. And if I wanted nothing, I’d just turn into a ghost. And that would be the end of it.” This is Lillian Breaker.

Lillian is 28 years old and “working two cashier jobs at competing grocery stores, smoking weed in the attic of my mother’s house” when she receives a letter from an old friend asking for help. The friend, Madison Billings Roberts, is extraordinarily beautiful, comes from a wealthy family and is married to an older man who is a Senator from the state of Tennessee. Lillian comes from a poor single parent family.

Lillian and Madison met when they were high school freshman at the exclusive Iron Mountain Girls Prepatory School, where they were roommates. Lillian was able to attend on a scholarship and the two became close friends. They both did well in school and played on the school basketball team. Madison was extremely ambitious. She told Lillian that “I want to be powerful. I want to be the person who makes big things happen, where people owe me so many favors that they can never pay me back.” However, in connection with an incident involving cocaine, Madison’s father and Lillian’s mother, Lillian was unjustly expelled from the school. Although the two continued to write letters to each other, they had not seen each other before Lillian received the request for help.

Lillian gets on a bus and is met in the Nashville bus station by Carl, who “looked like a man who was really into watches.” Carl drives Lillian to the estate where Madison lives with her husband, Jasper and son, Timothy in a mansion with servants. Timothy is quiet and awkward and Madison is as beautiful as ever. Carl is the family fixer and is involved in every part of the story.

After some pleasantries, Madison explains what she needs. Jasper has two children, Bessie and Roland, from a prior marriage and his former wife has recently died. He needs to take the children but he is concerned that they will hinder his political ambitions because, when they are stressed, they simply spontaneously combust. Lillian, who has absolutely no experience with children, agrees to take care of the kids, and she, Bessie and Roland live in a separate fireproofed structure on the mansion grounds. Jasper is not a particularly attentive father or a particularly likable person. Lillian cannot tolerate Jasper but she seems to have a blind spot for her manipulative childhood friend.

Madison and Lillian see each other periodically and have a memorable one on one basketball game in front of the children, including Timothy, who begins to become acquainted with his half siblings. Predictably, Lillian grows very attached to Bessie and Roland. When Jasper is offered the position of Secretary of State he decides that the children must be sent away. At that point, all hell breaks loose and I will let you read the story to find out what happens.

The book is a light easy read with a little bit of a moral attached to it, focused on the issues of privilege, power and decency. The book is dedicated to Ann Patchett and Julie Barer (literary agent). Anything with Ann Patchett associated with it has to be good. That said, this is not great literature but a fun and quirky read. You can reserve Nothing to See Here at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Night Boat to Tangier is a beautifully written story about the criminally complex and intertwined lives of two haggard gentlemen, Charlie Redmond and Maurice Hearne. Both men are from Ireland and we meet them in October of 2018, sitting in the terminal at the port of Algecirus, hoping to spot Maurice’s estranged 23 year old daughter Dilly, either coming or going. Charlie, early 50s, walks with a pronounced limp and Maurice, 51 years old, has a bad eye.  The injuries are the result of hard lived lives.

As the two men sit and wait, they see a young man, dressed in combat gear, with dreadlocks and a dog. They approach him and begin to question him about his knowledge of Dilly. They find his answers less than satisfactory and there is some violence. Ultimately the young man escapes but the episode provides the reader with a hint of the men’s history. The men continue to wait in the terminal, looking for Dilly and reminiscing about their lives. The unidentified narrator fills in the gaps.

The story moves back and forth from the terminal in 2018 and the earlier years of their lives beginning in 1994. As a young man, Maurice finds his calling in the drug trade. His introduction is initiated by a woman named Kadima, who moves in and out of Maurice’s story throughout the book. Charlie joins him in the business and keeps potential trouble at bay simply by his unpredictable nature. “The thing about Charlie was that you took him into a room and they knew. One look and they f——- knew. A single glance into the soulful eyes of Charlie Redmond and they knew that this could go in any direction.”

The money comes and goes. Maurice makes investments, is flush and then he’s broke. He meets Cynthia, falls in love, marries and Dilly is born. Cynthia is wary of Charlie. “She said the most important thing is to maintain a distance from Charlie Redmond.” Maurice cheats on Cynthia and Cynthia grows close to Charlie, despite her misgivings. Ultimately Cynthia and Maurice fall apart, Maurice ends his friendship with Charlie and Maurice leaves Ireland and travels, mostly in Spain. He connects with Kadima for a time, but ultimately he returns to Ireland.

During Maurice’s childhood, his father suffered from mental illness and ended up in a hospital. Upon his return to Ireland, Maurice suffers from the same or similar ailments and ends up hospitalized. Shockingly, Charlie, with whom he had fallen out, ends up in the same hospital room and they reconnect. Cynthia dies and Dilly takes off. Charlie and Maurice end up looking for her at the terminal in Algecirus, where we meet them in 2018.

Among their reminiscences, Maurice is constantly missing Cynthia. “And now from the vantage of his years, a terrible swoon comes down on him; Cynthia, for a moment, descends all the way through him. This is not a rare occurrence…Hate is not the answer to love; death is its answer.”

At the end, someone like Dilly enters the terminal, but the men do not believe it is her and they never speak.

The novel is beautiful and lyrical in its prose, almost visual, and the dialogue is brilliant. This is a short must read for anyone who appreciates brilliant writing and a unique and enchanting gangster novel with a twist. The novel can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Trust ExerciseTrust Exercise is ostensibly the story of artistic, talented high school students and the performing arts school where they all come together, Citywide Academy for the Performing Arts (CAPA). We do not know exactly where the school is located, other than in a hot southern city. The group of students that is the focus of this story are not ordinary high schoolers, if there is such a thing. “They were all children who had previously failed to fit in, or had failed, to the point of acute misery, to feel satisfied, and they had seized on creative impulse in the hope of salvation.” This is the baseline for the story.

The story revolves around 15 year olds Sarah and David, whose romantic relationship is intense and strong…until it isn’t. And then the story focuses on the failure of that love affair. But there are so many other things going on. Mr. Kingsley, their gay beloved theater teacher has them engaging in a variety of trust exercises, including crawling along on the floor in the pitch dark (where maybe trust doesn’t work so well if you are a 15 year old girl), sitting in a circle and speaking the truth about each other, as well as more traditional trust exercises.

Sarah has a best friend Joelle and a distant friend Karen. As the story unfolds and Sarah (who is said to be very beautiful) is grieving over the loss of David, her friends distance themselves from her. There are other characters in the story with various talents both real and imagined.

Sarah has a close relationship with Mr. Kingsley and a distant relationship with her mother. Sarah works early mornings in a bakery to earn money to buy a car. Mr. Kingsley inexplicably calls Sarah’s mother and tells her that Sarah should not be working so hard. Sarah’s mother, whom Sarah treats horribly and who is actually quite sympathetic, agrees but is concerned about the teacher’s intrusion. Mr. Kingsley’s intrusion does not end there and his relationship with Sarah  is quite puzzling. Suddenly, the relationship ends.

A significant part of the story involves a British performing troupe from a high school in Bournemouth that comes to visit and to perform what turns out to be a borderline pornographic version of Candide. The troupe includes two older men, one a teacher and the other a performer and a number of male and female students. The members of the troupe stay in the student’s homes and there are a lot of parties. Everyone seems to pair off for the visit including the two older men, with long term consequences.

The book is broken into three parts, each part bringing new meaning and perspective to the section before it. The last two parts deal with some of the characters many years after high school graduation. We learn what the first part of the book meant, how high school affected them and their ongoing heartbreaks and successes. The book is actually quite sobering about the long term impacts of high school life and sexual abuse from teachers and trusted advisors.

Despite the disturbing themes of the book, it is brilliantly conceived and written. It won the 2019 National Book Award and is an excellent, if not slightly dark, read. You can reserve the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Fleishman is in Trouble“And in our laughter we heard our youth, and it is not not a dangerous thing to be at the doorstep of middle age and at an impasse in your life and to suddenly be hearing sounds from your youth.” This passage summarizes the 373 pages of Fleishman Is In Trouble.

Toby Fleishman is a 41 year old hepatologist going through a divorce with his wildly successful talent agent wife Rachel. The Fleishman’s live in Manhattan, send their two children, Solly and Hannah, to private school and live a life of privilege, albeit constant striving. Toby is considered to be on the low end of the social scale as a mere doctor, while their wealthy friends who are investment professionals seem to be on the high end. At 5 foot 5 Toby is very self-conscious about his height and as a young man was not successful with women.

Toby meets Rachel during his first year of medical school at New York University. Rachel is an English major at Hunter College when they meet. “She was everything he thought a girl should be.” Rachel was raised by her grandmother after her father abandoned the family and her mother died of cancer. Rachel’s grandmother was not a loving person and Rachel was originally drawn to Toby because of his love for her.

Rachel is very ambitious and as their marriage progresses she pushes Toby to be more ambitious. Toby resists moving beyond being a practicing physician, because he “wanted to be a doctor to cure illness…giving solace and peace and healing to someone who needed it.” Rachel starts her own talent agency and books up and coming clients and becomes very successful, earning a lot of money. She is constantly striving to make connections with people wealthier and more connected than she. After having two children and trying to maintain her professional life, Rachel becomes stretched thin and stressed. She is discouraged about Toby’s lack of ambition and finally the marriage bond breaks.

Toby and Rachel reach a tentative agreement about child custody but Rachel suddenly disappears leaving Toby with sole custody of the children. At the end of the book we understand why. Throughout the story we learn about “hook-up” apps (probably more than we need but Toby is constantly participating) and about one of Toby’s patients, Karen Cooper, with Wilson’s disease.

As a result of the divorce, Toby reconnects with two college friends with whom he spent a year abroad in Israel, Seth and Elizabeth. Seth is extremely good looking and wealthy and has not married. Elizabeth was a writer for a men’s magazine and decided to quit to take care of her husband and two children in New Jersey. Elizabeth is the book’s narrator and is also writing the story.

The book focuses on the trauma of middle age and divorce but is also an analysis of the difficulties women encounter in American culture. Both Rachel and Elizabeth struggle with the double standard imposed on them, on their professional lives and the expectations placed on them as mothers and wives. And both struggle with middle age, the resulting changes in their appearances and how society responds to those changes. “The men hadn’t had any external troubles. They didn’t have a fear that they didn’t belong…They said all the things I wasn’t allowed to say aloud without fear of appearing grandiose or self-centered or conceited or narcissistic.” This is not to say that the men in the book are not also struggling with middle age, but the struggle is different.

And finally, the book addresses the role of extreme wealth and how it affects people’s expectations and entitlements. ”It was not just about owning the city. It was about owning everything beneath and above and behind the city, too.”

The book starts out strong, bogs down in the middle and ends somewhere in between. It is not exactly an uplifting portrait of middle age and marriage. All that said, I am glad I read it but am not quite sure I can recommend it to anyone who has not passed through this phase of life. You can reserve the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.