Little Fires Everywhere skillfully unrolls the story of a family in a conservative suburb that simultaneously befriends a single mother with a mysterious past and another family who adopted an also mysteriously abandoned baby — so the story is about motherhood, chosen or not, biological or not.
And it’s certainly filled with surprises and twists, both in the life stories of the characters and their personalities. But what a melodrama, and what a cliche-laden story, with unpleasant consequences for the logic of the events. Would a young college student recognize “baby hunger” in an older woman? I think not. Would the police fail to find an abandoned baby in one of the city’s fire stations a couple of weeks after the fact? Of course not.
There are some well-observed mannerisms and interactions in the book, but they could not overcome the overdone affect and underdone logic.
The Secrets She Keeps portrays two very pregnant women from different social classes, one aspiring to have the other’s life, which seems so perfect. The outcome will be complicated and tragic. The back stories seem needlessly over-full of drama, but the intrigue is captivating and clever and the characters are complex, down to the (wonderful) police psychologist.
It’s too bad that beach weather is past us, because How To Party With An Infant may, barely, pass muster as a beach read. It tries to be a satire of rich mothers of San Francisco, obsessed with getting their darlings into the right (very expensive and organic) preschool and taking the right barre class, but only succeeded in making me wonder how the heroine, instead of comfortably sponging off her parents, cannot just get a job and stop whining about not owning a Hermes belt. I think we can all live without Hermes belts. Or organic preschools with 40K annual tuitions.
The Misfortune of Marion Palm stars the most elusive of heroines: the mother who abandons her children. She leaves them with their (helpless) father, so they are not altogether abandoned, but they keenly miss her and their very real sufferings provide ballast for an otherwise droll expose of New York private schools, the ins and out of small-scale embezzlement, and how a helpless father can transform himself into a stylish daddy-blogger. Funny, but occasionally deep and sad.
The Sisters Chase starts like a standard sob story about two orphaned girls, but it quickly evolves into a tale of blackmail, family secrets, and a dark heroine in the person of the older sister. Despite the plot twists, the story is surprisingly predictable after the initial shock, and the ending was, for me, way too sweet and packaged, but how wonderful it is to have a borderline sociopathic young woman at the center of the story.
What My Body Remembers starts like a standard story of a single mother on welfare, struggling to deal with a mysterious psychiatric disorder while trying hard not to allow her son to be taken away from her, but quickly turns into the investigation of the death of her mother, killed when she herself was a little girl, which started her chaotic and violent journey through the foster care system. She will eventually untangle the responsibility of her father, who was convicted of murdering her mother, with the help of various residents of the small village where she grew up — to a dramatic finale.
I had to try hard to ignore the plot holes (would you race to what you know is a very dangerous scene without alerting the police?) but the psychological complications of the plot are delightful.
Want a little melancholy with your summer? Try The Other Side of the World, in which an overwhelmed mother follows her husband from England to Perth, Australia — where she finds that she is just as overwhelmed and frustrated by not being able to find time for her art. Her husband, meanwhile, finds that racism (he is part Indian) may be fiercer than back home. The story perfectly the feeling of utter exhaustion of raising small children along with the isolation of emigration, and is full of well-observed details about little kids.