Shriver has written some fine novels. Run away from this one.

THE MOTION OF THE BODY THROUGH SPACE

A sexagenarian starts working out. Is it self-care...or something more sinister?

What on earth is happening to Lionel Shriver? In novels like The Post-Birthday World (2007), she stood out as a savvy, cleareyed observer of human foibles. Of late, though, her fiction has become increasingly hectoring, determined to call out what she sees as PC groupthink and browbeat her own characters for their gumption deficits. Here, her bugbear is people who cultishly abuse their bodies in the name of good health. The drama centers on Remington, who’s decided to run a marathon at 64 after leaving his job at New York's state transportation agency. His wife, Serenata, ought to be immediately supportive, being a fitness junkie herself. But she prides herself on being a freethinker (she invented her own workouts! She invented the hair scrunchie all by herself!) and sees marathons as a fad. Remy, she thinks, has “caught a contagion, like herpes.” To her relief, Remy barely wheezes across the marathon’s finish line, but en route finds a booster in a trainer named Bambi Buffer, who spews uplift while pressing Remy to train for a triathlon. Serenata sees cow-eyed conformists wherever she looks: in Bambi, in Remy’s fellow triathletes, in her own insufferable born-again daughter. But Shriver’s juiciest target is the woman who cost Remington his job, a simplistically rendered social justice warrior bogeyman: an unqualified 27-year-old Nigerian woman with a gender-studies degree who becomes Remington’s boss and then deliberately works to undermine him as an older white man. Alas, no triathlon can conquer the injustice of it all. There’s a note of intentional satire here: Remington’s goals and Serenata’s judgments are both inflated for effect. But in the process, Shriver has made a cartoon of her talents as a social observer.

Shriver has written some fine novels. Run away from this one.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-232825-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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