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Friends and family

casebookMiles Adler-Rich, the likable teen narrator of Mona Simpson’s involving new novel Casebook (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) reminds me a bit of Harriet the Spy as he eavesdrops on the adults in his life, especially his mother Irene, “pretty for a mathematician.” Of course, he finds out more than he really wants to know, beginning with his parents’ divorce and their worries over him and his younger twin sisters. But Miles can’t stop spying, and with the help of his best friend Hector, graduates from rigging walkie-talkies and listening at open windows to tapping phones and rifling drawers. Their detective work intensifies when Irene becomes involved with the enigmatic Eli Lee, whose suspicious behavior leads Miles and Hector to a real private eye for investigative help. They also collaborate on a comic book, casting Eli as the chief villain and giving themselves superpowers to rescue incorrigible pets.

Framed as a memoir written by Miles in early 20s and footnoted by Hector, Casebook focuses on their middle and high school years in Santa Monica, the boys’ misadventures and the mystery of Eli. The conceit works for the most part; Simpson has an eye for the trenchant detail and knows her way around family dysfunction. The pacing’s uneven, and the supporting cast shadowy, but Miles’ perceptions ring true. Often funny, sometimes sad, Casebook makes for sweet dramedy.

shotgunNickolas Butler’s first novel Shotgun Lovesongs (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover) is itself a love song to small-town America and long friendships. It’s an ensemble piece, with the narrative fluidly moving back and forth in time and among five friends who grew up together in the Wisconsin farming community of Little Wing. Now in their early 30s, they’re facing that second coming-of-age where they’re starting to second-guess past choices and wondering what comes next. Hank runs his family farm with quiet competence and is a happily married husband and father. His wife Beth knows her high school sweetheart is a good man but a small piece of her heart still belongs to Leland, Hank’s best buddy who has found fame as an indie rocker. Despite his wandering, Lee keeps returning to Little Wing. Kip, a successful Chicago broker, is also back, ready to develop the closed mill into a commercial enterprise. Another friend, Ronny, was a rodeo cowboy before drink and a disabling accident sent him home to Little Wing, where his old pals can keep an eye on him at the VFW.

There are four weddings in the book, but the only funeral is for the lost dreams and missed opportunities among the group. Butler writes with lyric ease, but his characters are carrying around an awful lot of nostalgia to be so young. They may think it’s the Big Chill, but it’s really just an early frost.

sacredJulia Glass’s new novel And the Dark Sacred Night (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) takes its title from Louis Armstrong’s song “What a Wonderful World.” It’s appropriate — the world Glass’s sympathetic characters inhabit is richly realized, full of both heartbreak and joy. Unemployed art historian Kit Noonan’s midlife search for his biological father animates the story, but he’s the least interesting of the main characters. The most inexplicable is his mother Daphne, who in this day and age still refuses to divulge the name of his father to Kit, although readers are soon privy to her youthful affair at a summer music camp with a character from Glass’s award-winning 2002 novel Three Junes.

Kit’s search for his father leads him first to Jasper, his former stepfather, a Vermont outdoorsman who eventually points him to Lucinda Burns, glimpsed in Three Junes. Lucinda, the patrician wife of a New England senator, is the heart of the book. As Kit’s paternal grandmother, she’s long been aware of his relationship to her family and the chance to finally acknowledge him allows her to reconcile past and present. It’s not necessary to have read Three Junes to appreciate this one, although its readers also will welcome the return of bookseller Fenno McLeod and the chance to catch up with him and his partner Walter. If only Kit was as faceted as his father . . .

byrdAddie Lockwood’s unexpected pregnancy is just the first surprise in Kim Church’s Byrd (Dzanc Books, paperback ARC), a beautifully written first novel about love, choice and chance. Growing up in a small North Carolina town in the 1980s, bookish Addie finds a soulmate in musician Roland Rhodes. They go their separate ways after high school, pursuing their own dreams with mixed results. When they briefly meet again in their early 30s, Addie becomes pregnant. She decides to have the baby — Byrd — and give him up for adoption without telling Roland. The secret will reveberate through their lives and those close to them.

Church tells her story, past and present, through vignettes, longer set pieces and several letters. The narrative seems a bit disjointed at first, but then Church’s seductive prose takes hold and doesn’t let go.

 

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Something about Harry

just“The bare bones of a well-told story required coherence, ironic asides and a plot as well-knit and tied together as a jigsaw puzzle and somewhere in it a detail as provocative as a cat in a tree.”

That’s from Ward Just’s new novel American Romantic (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), a well-told story if ever there was one, complete with such provocative details as a cat in a tree, a meeting in the jungle, a girl in a hammock, a car over a cliff. All play a part in the life of diplomat Harry Sanders, “a connosieur of the counterfeit and inexplicable.”

Just writes about diplomats and foreign affairs with the silky acuity that John le Carre writes about spies and espionage. As his ambassador mentor tells Harry, “our business is not a straight-line affair. We deal with curves and switchbacks, the yes that means no and the no that means maybe. We are obliged to be comfortable with ambiguity.”

Harry’s career with the State Department is marked by his first posting to Saigon in the early 1960s when his covert negotiations with a communist leader lead to disaster. The event will follow him to more manageable postings in Africa and Europe, as will his memories of a brief affair with the beautiful, restless Sieglinde. Still, his later marriage to the younger May, eager to escape her stern Vermont roots, is mostly happy, and the two move smoothly in diplomatic circles. They are liked and respected, although Harry is never the high-flyer he might have been, and May has secrets of her own. Over time, Harry’s youthful romanticism is tempered by realism, he wonders about America’s place in the world and his own. Is the cottage in the south of France a retreat or a reward? Has Harry made history or has history made him?

American Romantic is Just’s 18th novel, and one of his best. My favorite novel of the year, so far.

 

 

 

Eyes wide open

sleepA year after reading the short stories in Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove, I’m still haunted by her weirdly wonderful — or wonderfully weird — tales.  “Reeling for the Empire,” in which Japanese girls turn into grotesque furry silkworms, spinning thread out of their hands, still strikes me as the stuff of nightmares. So I made sure to read Russell’s new digital novella Sleep Donation (Atavista, purchased e-book) during the daytime. Even then, I think some of it seeped into my restless dreams.

But, hey, at least I can sleep and dream, unlike many  of the people in Sleep Donation, where the Americas are undergoing an Insomniac Crisis in the near-future. You can die if you can’t sleep, like Trish Edgewater’s sister Dori, whose mind was crushed by waking moments. “Once sleep stopped time for Dori, she could not dig herself out. She was buried under snowflakes, minutes to hours to months.

“The official cause of death was organ failure.”

It may sound relatively peaceful, but it wasn’t, and it’s because Trish can recount Dori’s agonizing Last Day with such immediacy that’s she’s a prize recruiter for Slumber Corps, the non-profit that encourages healthy dreamers to donate sleep to terminal insomniacs. The system — with its Sleep Drives to recruit donors, its Sleep Vans, where their dreams are painlessly siphoned, and its Sleep Banks, where donations are processed and tested for nightmares — works well for the most part, like the blood banks of our time. But there’s never enough good sleep to go around, and the number of insomniacs needing transfusions continues to grow. On the outskirts of town, the sleepless seek relief at the Night Fair, paying fortunes for potions or a prime spot in the Poppy Fields.

At first, Trish’s discovery of Baby A, a universal donor, seems like a miracle. But Trish wonders how much sleep the poor child can give, as do her parents, Justine and Felix. Will their generosity with their daughter’s sleep last until researchers can synthesize the perfect artificial sleep? How many times can Trish recount Dori’s story before it’s just another story? And what of Donor Y, whose tainted sleep has led to a nightmare contagion resulting in elective insomniacs and suicides? What is so awful about his dreams that people refuse to go to sleep ever again?

Russell’s world-building is impressive, as is her verbal dexterity. Her imagination is simply fantastic, Ray Bradbury on speed. “It is a special kind of homelessness. . . to be evicted from your dreams.”

Thrills and chills

accidentWife, mom and CIA agent Kate Moore from Chris Pavone’s trippy first thriller The Expats has a cameo in his entertaining new novel The Accident (Crown, digital galley), but her boss, Berlin operative Hayden Gray, has a star turn. He’s trying to squash — by any means necessary — an anonymous manuscript before it can be published and its secrets revealed. New York literary agent Isabel Reed has the only known copy, a thick stack of pages titled “The Accident,” and she’s aware that she’s holding a future bestseller and a likely bombshell. The biography of global media mogul Charlie Wolfe alleges a Chappaquiddick-like accident in his past, a cover-up involving his best friend, and ties to covert U. S. intelligence operations. Before Isabel gives it to her old friend, editor Jeffrey Fielder, she swears him to secrecy, as well as her assistant. But copies of the manuscript soon begin to proliferate — a sexy sub-rights agent reads it on a flight to LA, where she’ll pitch it to a movie producer; a publisher trying to hold on to the family business sees it as a ticket to success, but he wants a veteran copy editor to fact-check it asap. All of these people are in grave danger; some will die. Meanwhile in Zurich, the anonymous author is pursuing his own agenda, including plastic surgery and hidden bank accounts. Pavone, who previously worked in publishing, offers a clever secret agent/book agent tale that benefits from his insider knowledge. But pay attention. As in The Expats, he’s quite the trickster. The body count is high.

weightIf you’re missing the rural noir of HBO’s True Detective or wishing Gillian Flynn would hurry up with a new thriller, check out Laura McHugh’s first novel, The Weight of Blood (Spiegal & Grau/Random House, digital galley). Set in the secluded “hollers” of the Ozark Mountains, the novel focuses on the close-knit Dane family — teenage Lucy, her father Carl, his older brother Crete — and the mysterious disappearances of two girls a generation apart. When the body of Lucy’s old school pal Cheri turns up creekside near Dane property, Lucy feels guilty for not having been a better friend, and she begins asking questions of the locals after finding a necklace in a trashed trailer. At the same time, she wonders about her mother Lila, a lovely outsider who disappeared 15 years ago. She might as well poke a nest of snakes. Secrets begin slithering out.  McHugh shifts the narrative voice among the main characters in the present and Lila in the past; eventually, they intersect. Lila proves the most riveting storyteller, but others such as midwife Birdie provide local color and perspective. It’s Birdie who tells Lucy: “You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin. But you can’t help when kin forsakes you or strangers come to be family.”

wivesWhen plastic surgeon John Taylor dies in a Palo Alto hotel, his secret comes out — he had three different wives in three different cities. In Alice LaPlante’s character-driven A Circle of Wives (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), the narrative rotates among the three women who loved the charismatic and compassionate Taylor and the young detective investigating Taylor’s suspicious death. Detective Samantha Adams has to fight her superiors to keep her on the case, but she’s certain the wives — or at least one of them — was responsible for the good doctor’s death. Was it status-conscious Deborah, the first wife who knew of her husband’s bigamy and even assisted in his complicated living arrangements? Or is it Mother Earth-type MJ, with an affinity for gardening and a troubled brother? Or pehaps it’s Helen, the most recent wife, a reserved pediatric oncologist with a secret? Sam’s investigation casts a shadow on her own so-so relationship with graduate student Peter, and then everything changes when a glamorous woman comes forward claiming that she was Taylor’s fiancee, for whom he was willing to disavow all his wives. LaPlante crafts a satisfying puzzle.

outcastCrimes of the past appear to bleed into the present in Elly Griffiths’ intriguing The Outcast Dead (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), which is often the case with forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. After uncovering the grave at Norwich Castle of the notorious Victorian murderess Mother Hook, hanged in 1867 for killing orphans in her care, Ruth is asked to participate in a TV series “Women Who Kill.” Ruth is reluctant — she’s decidedly not the put-together TV star type — but she’s persuaded by the program’s history consultant, an attractive American professor. DCI Harry Nelson, the married father of Ruth’s toddler daughter, doesn’t much like the professor, but he’s involved in two disturbing cases. One is a mother suspected of killing her infant children under the guise of crib death; the other a kidnapper known as “The Childminder.” One of these plots would be enough for most writers, but Griffiths deftly ties them together, along with the mystery of Mother Hook, and ratchets up the suspense when a child close to Ruth and Nelson is kidnapped.

littlegirlA kidnapper is also at work in Brian McGilloway’s Little Girl Lost (Harper Impulse, digital galley), the involving first entry in a new series featuring police detective Lucy Black of Derry, Northern Ireland. The title could refer to the shivering girl found in the midst of a snowy midwinter woods with someone else’s blood on her hands. Traumatized by her experience, the unidentified child bonds with Lucy, who would rather be working the McLaughlin case. Teenage Kate McLaughlin, daughter of a local real estate tycoon, is another missing girl, apparently kidnapped. The police force is concentrating all its efforts on finding Kate, even though Lucy suspects the cases are connected. But Lucy, at heart, is also a little girl lost, coping with her divorced dad’s dementia and her conflicted feelings about her mother, who is not just her boss but boss of the force. Two more Lucy Black thrillers are on the way. I’ll read them.

Believe it or not

museumMagic by Alice. Over the course of more than two dozen books, Alice Hoffman has created her own brand of magical realism, often tethering the fantastic to the everyday in lyrical, luminous prose. In her new novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things (Scribner, digital gallery), she takes a slightly different tack, telling of the outwardly weird who wish their lives more ordinary, the freakish fascinated by the more mundane. Coralie Sardie is the Human Mermaid in her father’s small Coney Island museum in early 20th-century New York. Born with webbing between her fingers, she hones her swimming skills in the Hudson River by night, then slips into a glass tank by day. Water is her element. For Russian immigrant photographer Eddie Cohen, it’s fire, from the flames that burned his boyhood home to the horrific blaze that consumes the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Eddie and Coralie, each yearning for a different life, meet over his search for a missing woman and her father’s obsession to create a river monster for his failing museum, overshadowed by the amusement park splendor of Dreamland.

The story’s rich in atmosphere and glittering details — the “living wonders” of the museum like an armless girl painted to resemble a monarch butterfly, the red-throat hummingbirds let out of their cages on leashes of string, an ancient tortoise who rocks himself to sleep. It’s also a dark valentine to an early New York, where the rich ride in carriages and the poor strive in factories. It ends with the actual conflagration of Dreamland, imagined with a terrible beauty. Magic by Alice.

lostlakeSarah Addison Allen writes a more gentle kind of magical realism than Hoffman. Lost Lake (St. Martin’s Press, paperback ARC) is a sweet tale of second chances among characters who are mildly quirky instead of wildly eccentric. Kate Pheris, a widow of one year, impulsively takes her 8-year-old daughter Devin to visit her great-aunt Eby’s south Georgia resort camp, Lost Lake, where she spent her 12th summer. But the cabins are mostly unoccupied now, and Eby is ready to sell the rundown resort to a local developer. Devin is enchanted by the lake and the mysterious Alligator Man only she can see, and Kate begins to reclaim her life from her manipulative mother-in-law. That her first love is still around and available adds to Lost Lake’s charms. Several old-timers are also reluctant to leave Lost Lake, including a retired teacher, her va-voom husband-hunting friend, and a socially awkward podiatrist with a yen for Eby’s French cook, mute and haunted. But my favorite character is bespectacled Devin in her pink tutu and neon green T-shirt, who still believes in magic.

poisonedLloyd Shepherd’s eerie The Poisoned Island (Washington Square Press, digital galley) is an historical mystery with a hint of horror. In 1812, the ship Solander arrives at London’s dock bearing botanical treasures from Otaheite, aka Tahiti. Soon after, sailors from the Solander begin turning up dead with blissful smiles on their murdered corpses. Charles Horton of the Thames River Police suspects the deaths are somehow connected to the Solander’s exotic cargo, which is destined for Kew Gardens under the supervision of Sir Joseph Banks of the Royal Society. Meanwhile, Sir Joseph’s librarian, Robert Hunter, is impressed by a breadfruit tree from the ship that is showing exponential growth and tries to get answers from his employer, who sowed wild oats as a young man visiting Otaheite 40 years ago. It all makes for a good yarn with a bounty of fascinating facts about botany, Tahiti and detection.

mist“Rain, rain all day, all evening, all night, pouring autumn rain.” So begins Susan Hill’s Victorian ghost story The Mist in the Mirror (Vintage, digital galley), appropriately moody and melancholy. Sir James Monmouth returns to the barely remembered England of his childhood after years of living in Africa and traveling in the Far East in the footsteps of the explorer Conrad Vane. Monmouth sets out to research Vane’s life and his own family history with plans to write a book, but is discouraged by odd events and persons. Seems Vane is not the hero he supposed. Indeed, he may be the very embodiment of evil. Is he behind Monmouth’s panic attacks and deteriorating health? And what of the strange apparition of the sad boy in rags? Is he warning Monmouth to keep away, or is he beckoning him onward?

starterhouseSchoolteacher Lacey and her lawyer husband Drew think they’ve found their dream home in Sonja Condit’s creepy Starter House (HarperCollins, digital galley), but dontcha know the charming Southern cottage is haunted? Locals call it the murder house because of its dark past, but Lacey, pregnant with her first child, isn’t bothered, even after encountering a neighbor boy called Drew, who becomes increasingly possessive of her time. At first she tries to amuse him with games and placate him with cookies, but Drew’s odd behavior escalates to the threatening. Coincidentally, Brad is representing a client in a custody case who has ties to the house. Things go bump in the night — and during the day. Shiver!

Dead cold

lovestoryHypothermia as murder weapon. Young Cardiff detective Fiona Griffiths almost gets iced in Love Story, with Murders (Random House, digital galley), Harry Bingham’s crafty follow-up to Talking to the Dead, one of my favorite crime novels from last year. This procedural is more complex as narrator Fiona details her part in investigating two grisly murders, dubbed “Operation Stir-fry” by her colleagues (although not within hearing of frosty DCI Rhiannon Watkins).  Soon after Fiona discovers well-preserved bits and pieces of university student Mary Langton, missing for five years, very fresh parts of engineering lecturer Ali-el Khalifi begin turning up. Fiona helps the other detectives look for links between the victims, even as she spies a connection to an inept drug smuggler and a local business with foreign contacts.

But that’s only half of it. Bingham’s quite the plotter, but it’s Fiona, who describes herself as the “more-than-slightly crazy daughter of one of Wale’s best-known criminals,” who really keeps things interesting. As a teenager, she spent two years wrestling with a rare mental illness that made her think she was dead. Ten years on, she struggles to be “normal” — fixing dinner for her boyfriend, going shopping with her younger sister — but she still has an affinity for the dead, sometimes uncertain of reality. She also is continuing to look into her own past; she was abandoned as a toddler in a parked Jaguar belonging to the man who adopted her. And yes, she knows he was once a crime boss, arrested several times but never convicted. Digging into her past means digging up his. To be continued, thank goodness.

northofPirio Kasparov makes for another unconventional sleuth and narrator in Elisabeth Elo’s chilly North of Boston (Pamela Dorman/Viking). Pirio, heir to a high-end perfume business started by her Russian immigrant parents, has become known as “the swimmer” after surviving several hours in the icy Atlantic after her friend Ned’s lobster boat is run over by a freighter. Ned is presumed drowned, and it’s such a wonder that Pirio didn’t die that the Navy recruits her for research on surviving extreme cold. Meanwhile, Pirio has suspicions that the collision was no accident, and an investigative reporter has similar ideas. He’s been asking questions of  Ned’s fishing buddies at the company Ocean Catch, as well as Pirio’s  alcoholic friend Thomasina, who has a young son with Ned. Soon Pirio goes to sea again on a giant fishing trawler, and the story morphs into a suspenseful environmental thriller in Canada’s Baffin Bay. Battling bad guys and the elements, Pirio also discovers family secrets on an island remembered from childhood.

leavingWilliam Shaw’s keenly observed She’s Leaving Home (Little, Brown, digital galley) takes its title from a Beatles song, which is apropos considering its setting, 1968 swinging London. Detective sergeant Cathal “Paddy” Breen is bemused: “It was as if some kind of coup had taken place. The young and the beautiful had seized power. They had their own TV programs, their own radio stations, their own shops, their own language. In his early thirties, Breen felt cheated. Jealous even.”

Probationary constable Helen Tozer, 10 years younger, is Breen’s brash opposite, but the two are reluctantly paired  investigating the murder of an unidentified young woman near Abbey Road and the Beatles’ recording studio. The two question the neighborhood’s residents, including a nosy shrew, an elderly widower and an African surgeon, as well as the Beatles groupies hanging around for a glimpse of George or Paul. Tozer is a George-girl and surprises stolid Breen with her pop culture knowledge. Still, their search eventually takes them to Devon and Cornwall to find out why the dead girl left home and clues to her killer.

whitelie

Andrea Gillies’ first novel The White Lie (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley) is both a country-house saga and literary mystery, perfect for fans of Gosford Park. Michael Salter is 19 when he vanishes from the family estate in the Scottish highlands. His young aunt Ursula, emotionally stunted since a childhood tragedy, claims she has drowned Michael in the loch, but the family closes ranks, telling the villagers that fatherless Michael has merely gone away. Why the white lie? Perhaps because “the family has had more than its share of disasters, of premature deaths, one generation after another, such that people quite routinely refer to the power of the Salter curse.”

By the way, that’s Michael talking, or rather his ghost, 14 years after the incident at the loch. Able to review his past as well as “cinematic visitations” of other relatives’ memories before he was born, Michael makes for a beguiling narrator as he moves back and forth in time delving into the Salters’ secret history. Trust me. It works because Gillies writes beautifully, with elegant confidence.

hardgoingHard to believe, but Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ Hard Going (Severn House, digital galley) is the 16th entry in her estimable procedural series featuring London police detective Bill Slider. Seems like only yesterday that Slider was courting musician Joanna on the sly; now they’re embracing domestic bliss with a child.  But once again, the job interferes with family when Slider and sidekick Atherton are called out when a retired solicitor noted for his philanthropy is bashed over the head. They discover that the victim once successfully defended a man charged as a child molester, and death threats ensued. Perhaps, though, the answer lies closer to home and a colorful cleaning woman with criminal connections. There’s also an ex-wife in the background. Slider and company sort it all out in fine fashion.

Left behind

lippmanBaltimore bookie Felix Brewer is the gone guy in After I’m Gone (Morrow, review copy), Laura Lippman’s artful novel of character and family, mystery and murder. When Brewer faces prison in July 1976, he chooses to disappear for parts unknown, leaving behind his beautiful wife Bambi and their three young daughters, as well as his mistress, former showgirl Julie Saxony. All of their lives are forever shaped by the absence of charismatic Felix. Bambi is forced to turn to her husband’s best friend, a wealthy attorney, for ongoing financial help, believing that Felix is still supporting Julie at the expense of her family.  And when Julie vanishes 10 years after Felix, it’s generally assumed that he sent for her at last — until her body is found some months later at a local park. Still, her murder remains a cold case until 2012, when retired Baltimore detective Sandy Sanchez begins investigating as a consultant.

As in such past novels as I’d Know You Anywhere, Lippman smoothly slips among multiple perspectives and time periods, steadily building suspense as she peels away layers of deceit. Lyrics from the 1950s song “Never Let Me Go” signal each section: “Hold me” “Thrill Me” “Miss Me” “Tell Me.”

Bambi, still lovely at 73, has always been good at keeping secrets. Her grown daughters — working mom Linda, smart, needy Rachel and pretty, selfish Michelle — have inherited that trait, as well as a stubborn belief their father will return. Sandy eventually discovers that all of the Brewer woman had motive and possible opportunity to do away with ambitious Julie, who so believed that Felix would marry her one day that she converted to Judaism.

Sandy, who has his own haunted past,  thinks, “we tend to order things according to the reality we know, as we discover it. All life is hindsight, really, stories informed by their endings.” You can keep that in mind as After I’m Gone reaches resolution — and also that Lippman is so very  good at misdirection.  The coda — “Never Let Me Go” — is perfect.

wakeIn 1920, London is still shadowed by the Great War. The reminders are everywhere, as maimed veterans sell small items door-to-door or park their wheelchairs on street corners. And they’re the lucky ones. A generation is buried in France and Belgium, leaving behind grieving wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers. Anna Hope’s sad and lovely first novel Wake (Random House, digital galley) unfolds over five days in November as Britain awaits the arrival of the coffin of the Unknown Warrior. Hope traces the journey of  this anonymous soldier from his grave in France to London on Armistice Day in a series of italicized passages, but her narrative focuses on three women living with loss.

Hettie’s a dance hall girl, whose share of her sixpence-a-dance wages goes to support her widowed mother and shell-shocked brother. At a nightclub, she encounters a handsome veteran who perhaps will be her ticket to a new life. Evelyn, a bitter spinster whose fiance was killed in the war, immerses herself in work at the Pensions Bureau and wonders how her adored brother seemingly shrugs off the horrors he saw as an officer in the trenches. Ada remains so haunted by the death of her only son Michael that she neglects her husband and life itself. Over the course of the book, Hope delicately reveals the devastating wartime tragedy that unknowingly links the three women.

At one point, Ada stands outside at twilight, watching her neighbors at work in their kitchens. She finds it odd looking “at the rhythms and routines of life. It suddenly seems so clear. Some contract has been broken. Something has been ruptured. How have they all agreed to carry on?”

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