The books are busting out all over, and I’m desperately trying to keep up with the reading and writing. I should have posted about Molly Prentiss’ first novel, Tuesdays Nights in 1980 (Gallery/Scout Press, digital galley), a month ago when I first read it. Happily, Prentiss’ atmospheric portrait of the burgeoning New York art scene circa the early ’80s is seared in my memory. In pre-gentrification SoHo, three lives intersect and combust. James Bennet is an art critic whose synesthesia gives him an edge when it comes to describing color and feeling; Raul Engales, a painter who has left behind Argentina’s Dirty War, is poised to become the next big thing; and Lucy, the beautiful and naive young woman straight off the bus from Idaho, is in love with the city and its artists, its passion and possibility. Never mind the squalor, Lucy downs a drink that tastes like “poison and sunshine,” does a little modeling, and becomes Raul’s muse until a tragic accident upends lives and dreams. Prentiss’ writing has the rush of a fevered, impressionistic dream.
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s first novel, The Nest (Ecco, library hardcover), has been riding a wave of publicity, and this New York-centric tale of family dysfunction offers voyeuristic entertainment. The four Plumb siblings, now middle-aged, have counted on inheriting their mutual trust fund to cover all their first-world debts and expenses, but elder son Leo’s latest escapade has depleted “the Nest.” Right out of rehab, charming Leo promises to repay the funds, but Beatrice, who can’t finish her novel, and Jack, who has lied to his partner about the solvency of his antiques business, and Melody, who faces a high mortgage and college tuition for her twin daughters, doubt their brother’s assurances, considering his ex-wife’s demands. It’s hard to sympathize with the siblings as they run around like chickens missing their heads, but I did like Leo’s on-and-off girlfriend Stephanie, determined but tenderhearted, and Melody’s adventurous twins, who gleefully outwit her stalking by app.
Now the Rockwell family really knows how to put the “fun” in dysfunction in Bridget Asher’s sprightly novel All of Us and Everything (Bantam, review copy), a spring selection of the SheReads online book club. Augusta Rockwell always told her three daughters that their absent father was an international spy away on secret missions. That outrageous story has echoed through the years until, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a mysterious box of letters surfaces and the three grown sisters — Esme, Liv, Ru — return to their childhood home to help their mother and survey the damage. Also on the scene are Esme’s newly fatherless teenage daughter Atty, with a serious Twitter addiction; the longtime housekeeper, who knows more than she lets on; and a prodigal neighbor who had a crush on Liv as a teenager and was the subject of Ru’s first screenplay. Asher manages the ensuing antics with ease, but takes quirkiness to the extreme. (Taxidermy squirrels). Still, Augusta’s memories of the love of her life — she met him on a bus during a snowstorm — are affecting, as are later scenes of reconnection and resolution. All in all, a memorable and messy family reunion.
First love and second chances. Jennifer Weiner puts a spin on this classic premise and comes up a winner with Who Do You Love (Washington Square Press, review copy), now out in paperback and another SheReads spring pick. Eight-year-old Rachel Blum is recovering from heart surgery when she escapes from her hospital room to the ER one night and meets fellow eight-year-old Andy Landis, alone with a broken arm. They don’t expect to meet again, but serendipity and circumstances bring them together again — and again. In alternating chapters, Weiner focuses on Rachel and Andy, mostly apart but always on the verge of getting back together. Can true love conquer all? Maybe, maybe not, when families, social class and issues such as alcoholism, addiction and adultery get in the way. Thirtysomething years pass quickly with more than one surprise, but it’s the credible characters and small moments that touch the heart. Yes, those are tears in your eyes.