Pure Hollywood by Christine Schutt

Hardcover, 144 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Grove Atlantic

In 11 captivating tales, Pure Hollywood brings us into private worlds of corrupt familial love, intimacy, longing, and danger. From an alcoholic widowed actress living in desert seclusion, to a young mother whose rejection of her child has terrible consequences, a newlywed couple who ignore the violent warnings of a painter burned by love, to an eerie portrait of erotic obsession, each story in Pure Hollywood is an imagistic snapshot of what it means to live and learn love and hurt.

Schutt gives us sharply suspenseful and masterfully dark interior portraits of ordinary lives, infused with her signature observation and surprise.

Pure Hollywood proved to be a collection plagued by a wide spectrum of dullness. There were moments, mostly at the start of the collection, where overwrought prose ran rampant in a way that made no sense whatsoever. It was as if the author, Christine Schutt, had her trusty Word thesaurus immediately on hand, ready to whip out at any moment to form absurd sentences instead of creating readable literature—as if her way of being “creative” was to write so evasively and nonsensically as to confuse the reader into thinking, “Damn, this MUST be the newest form of erudite art; I’ve got to HAVE it!” purely (sure, why not?—pun intended) because they don’t get it at all.

As many readers and writers know, Ernest Hemingway is famously quoted as saying: “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing, he may omit things that he knows, and the reader … will feel those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” I’m confident that this is not what you’ll find in Schutt’s Pure Hollywood. All of the stories seemed incomplete and covered in a blanket of gray soot. They were all a bit dreary in atmosphere (I found that to be fine if that’s the mood she was going for) and very unfinished. There was very little shock factor in this collection at all, and what little there was wasn’t followed-up on, so the few moments of revelation turned out to be aimless, pointless, near-powerless punches that slipped off the skin like water, non-scathing and unmemorable.

The first story in the collection took up one-third of the space of the entire anthology and had literally only one moment of pure interest. You’ll know that moment when you get to it. I left “Pure Hollywood” behind feeling that moments of my life had been squandered in reading it. But, I pressed on.

The second story in this collection, “The Hedges,” begins as such:

The woman who had just been identified as attached to Dick Hedge looked pained by the clotted, green sound of her little boy’s breathing, an unwell honk that did not blend in with the sashaying plants and beachy-wet breeze of the island.

*raising hand* Umm, did you just try to say that a woman’s son was sick on the beach? I had to read that line at least three times just to extract some meaning from that sludge of words, almost senseless when mixed in that formula. That opening line alone was enough to make me say “Pass” on that story. BUT I pressed forward again. I ended up liking “The Hedges”—the story of a strangely unhappy young couple on vacation with their fussy toddler and the events on that vacation that led to an unfortunate event—far more than I liked any of the other stories, but I didn’t like everything about it. It read like an adult version of Fun with Dick and Jane (and the husband is even named Dick). If that was Schutt’s intent, it fell just short of being clever because it was somehow never fully realized. It read like an outline of a story with none of the goods filled in, and because of that I didn’t especially care about the family, particularly that toddler.

“The Duchess of Albany” was the absolute epitome of the word WASP(y) and held no interest for me whatsoever. It read easily, sometimes even jauntily, but in the end left absolutely no impact.

“Family Man” was a dull flash fiction about a dull man. Literally. That is all.

“Where You Live, When You Need Me” warranted only an annoyed side-eye glance and a curt flipping of the page. As far as I can tell, it said nothing about anything but still managed to be rather snobbishly WASPy. Are these people hiring a homeless woman whose full name they don’t even know to help them out around the homes they’re renting in “the Berkshires,” then contemplating their belief in God (for one ridiculously, pretty much ironically brief second) with nothing else said as if that was enough? The nerve. Nothing else to be said about this one.

“The Dot Sisters”—what for??

“Oh, the Obvious” drew me in because of the potential for irony implied in the title. There was some irony in the end that was tolerably well done.

In the end, Christine Schutt’s Pure Hollywood is a collection I’m sure most people can live without. This compilation of stories added nothing to the dialogue about anything, unless you are the kind of reader who enjoys a dry read of literary content the likes of which is sure to make future readers inexperienced with the genre cringe away from it. I get the feeling that Schutt may have been going for dry, witty, ironic and possibly socially commentating fiction, but I do feel that I very well might be stretching for benefit of the doubt. (If not, it definitely needed to be stepped up several notches.)For me, it was fiction without a soul (except for, maybe, the second one), which, I’ve noticed, is almost always what you get from Grove Atlantic/Grove Press. (This is an unfortunate, but accurate observation, in my personal opinion.) To give the best and most accurate analogy I can think of, this entire collection was written for and about extremely uptight Protestant-esque people of coin (probably family money) who would wear cardigans buttoned at the neck and drone on and on about the troubles with “the help.” Picture that person and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the audience for this short story collection. I struggled with what rating to give Pure Hollywood. In the end, 2 stars seemed fair enough, and I’ll move on with my life thinking no more about it. **

*I received an advance-read copy of the book from the publisher, Grove Atlantic, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Red Word by Sarah Henstra

Paperback, 352 pages
Expected publication: March 13th 2018 by Grove Press, Black Cat

A smart, dark, and take-no-prisoners look at rape culture and the extremes to which ideology can go, The Red Word is a campus novel like no other. As her sophomore year begins, Karen enters into the back-to-school revelry–particularly at a fraternity called GBC. When she wakes up one morning on the lawn of Raghurst, a house of radical feminists, she gets a crash course in the state of feminist activism on campus. GBC is notorious, she learns, nicknamed “Gang Bang Central” and a prominent contributor to a list of date rapists compiled by female students. Despite continuing to party there and dating one of the brothers, Karen is equally seduced by the intellectual stimulation and indomitable spirit of the Raghurst women, who surprise her by wanting her as a housemate and recruiting her into the upper-level class of a charismatic feminist mythology scholar they all adore. As Karen finds herself caught between two increasingly polarized camps, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture–but the war between the houses will exact a terrible price.

The Red Word captures beautifully the feverish binarism of campus politics and the headlong rush of youth toward new friends, lovers, and life-altering ideas. With strains of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, Alison Lurie’s Truth and Consequences, and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Sarah Henstra’s debut adult novel arrives on the wings of furies.

O sing of the American student body, glorious and young. We are the future!…Everyone on a university campus is equally young. We are all the same social class…We all wear the same clothes and listen to the same music…We are all giddy and hyperventilating in the superoxygenated atmosphere of attention and information and privilege and power. We all thought we were different but we weren’t. We all thought we were resisting something but we weren’t. We all thought that life would be like this forever but it wouldn’t. We were going to spend the rest of our lives trying and failing to re-create this feeling of urgency, of specialness, of being smack at the epicenter of everything important and real happening in the world. For the rest of our lives we would yearn for this feeling of exigency and belonging and fullness and passion. From here on in, it would be nostalgia.

Sarah Henstra’s The Red Word pulsates with the tangible feel of a truly undergraduate experience – in many ways, my experience anyway. From the scraping of coins together for packets of Ramen noodles to the dogged debates in the library over Starbucks on the merits of feminist ideology and the next paper due. All of the key players are present here: the “butch” ultra-feminist, the foreigner, the erudite professor whom all the smart girls look up to and yearn to be like, the frat boys, the rich kids, the students holding down part-time jobs and the free-spirited girls who make kissy-faces at taxi drivers then call them assholes and walk away; they’re all here. If you lived this undergraduate experience, you’ll feel at home here, wrapped in a Snuggie of, yeah, “nostalgia.” You’ll understand the references and won’t be shocked at how often the words “smoke” or “condom” or “rights” come up.

The above quote is a fantastic summation of this novel in all the best ways. The Red Word is about a year in the lives of a group of undergraduate students, and the catastrophes they catalyzed, exacerbated and lived within their “superoxygenated atmosphere of attention and information and privilege and power.” At the center of this story is Karen, a Canadian student on an American Ivy League campus her sophomore year. When Karen moves into “Raghurst,” a student house where a group of lesbian radical feminists live, and simultaneously starts dating a frat boy from GBC (better known as “Gang Bang Central” on campus), it is the spark that ignites the subsequent events; she is straddling a dangerous line between two houses who go to war over women’s rights versus patriarchal “brotherhood” – a war of the greater society as a whole. It’s about their year of learning, of trauma, of sexual exploration and viewing the world around them through their stanch lens of feminism.

“Frat boys like to share. You have to watch your back.”

Far beyond just being an ode to campus life, The Red Wordexplores the crevices of rape culture on college campuses and in society as a whole. It reaches into the nooks and crannies of words like “consent” and “consensual” and shows it all to us through the eyes of a group of young women so far from home, so close and yet so far from finding themselves. Sarah Henstra’s debut is intelligently done, intellectual, and very often witty. It is biting and often cringe-worthy, both theoretically and physically. But keep watching; keep reading. Never look away from this mirror. This novel puts the reader right in the midst of the Crog-wearing, Iliad-quoting erudites of a women-centric viewpoint, right in the middle of the bloom of self-awareness. (They’d hate me for saying that, wouldn’t they?)

It did tend toward the melodrama in areas, but doesn’t the college experience itself? Toward the end I was thinking, If I see one more melodramatic, theatrical proclamation, I’ll scream. (Oh Dyann, how you would splinter the spears and batter the bright shields! Stay, oh stay with me.) And yet, the subject matter here was so worthy of exploration. Frat culture and pack mentalities. The ethics of “victim blaming” –

*spoken in an existential cadence

If a girl goes into a frat party and gets herself drunk, does she deserve to be gang raped? * The politics of single parenthood for the woman – is she weak for “succumbing” to her circumstances, being “trampled by patriarchy,” for letting her parents pull her out of school, for embarking on single-parenthood of an unwanted baby? Or, is there another worthy argument at play here as well? You be the judge.

The Red Word was a fantastic debut novel from Henstra, which I would highly recommend to anyone, particularly college-aged females. If there was ever a novel to sit around and discuss ad nauseam, it’s this one. It raised brave questions and turned the typical “college trajectory into adulthood” story on its head. There was nothing predictable about this novel. And I thought that was for the best – because, is there ever really anything predictable about college or our life experiences after it? I think not. Henstra and The Red Word earned a strong 4 stars from the start and held them throughout. ****

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Sarah HenstraMy novel The Red Word is available March 2018 from Grove Atlantic (US) and ECW (Canada), and in 2019 from Tramp Press (UK). Mad Miss Mimic was published by Penguin Canada in 2015. I’m also an English professor and I teach courses in Fairy Tales & Fantasy and Gothic Horror.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: February 13th 2018 by Grove Press

An extraordinary debut novel, Freshwater explores the surreal experience of having a fractured self. It centers around a young Nigerian woman, Ada, who develops separate selves within her as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” Unsettling, heartwrenching, dark, and powerful, Freshwater is a sharp evocation of a rare way of experiencing the world, one that illuminates how we all construct our identities.

Ada begins her life in the south of Nigeria as a troubled baby and a source of deep concern to her family. Her parents, Saul and Saachi, successfully prayed her into existence, but as she grows into a volatile and splintered child, it becomes clear that something went terribly awry. When Ada comes of age and moves to America for college, the group of selves within her grows in power and agency. A traumatic assault leads to a crystallization of her alternate selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves–now protective, now hedonistic–move into control, Ada’s life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated by the various selves within Ada and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater dazzles with ferocious energy and serpentine grace, heralding the arrival of a fierce new literary voice.

It’s not easy to persuade a human to end their life – they’re very attached to it, even when it makes them miserable, and Ada was no different. But it’s not the decision to cross back that’s difficult; it’s the crossing itself.

Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater is a novel of layers that do not always nicely overlap; in fact, the pieces often seem to not fit together at all. It is a novel born from trauma and emotional paroxysms, a read that erupts with them throughout. You have to peel back the layers to get to what Emezi has laid underneath, to find the gems, to find the hidden well of pain and sentiment offered here, and that may not be a satisfying journey for many readers.

Freshwater is the story of Ada, a young Nigerian woman with a fractured self, or multiple personalities, due to the gods who have mistakenly taken root in her body and mind. It is a dark novel portraying the malevolence within us – that darkness at the very deepest depths of us that we hope to never have to witness of ourselves or in others. It is a novel that portrays the psychological effects of such darkness and emotional violence. When Ada comes into adulthood and leaves her splintered home for a new existence in a Virginia college, a traumatic sexual experience further shatters her mind and her multiple personalities are born. Ada fights a battle between herself, her other selves and her God she left behind, a battle to regain her equilibrium that veers her onto a dangerous course of self-destructive behavior. A path of bloodshed, tears and an equal dose of sexual trauma and exploration. Ada fights with herself, realizing something is wrong. She wants a change but her other personalities refuse to let her go.

Let me tell you now, I loved her because in the moment of her devastation, the moment she lost her mind, that girl reached for me so hard that she went completely mad, and I loved her because when I flooded through, she spread herself open and took me in without hesitation, bawling and broken, she absorbed me fiercely, all the way; she denied me nothing. I loved her because she gave me a name.

Freshwater was a novel that took a lot of patience for me to read. If you’re a reader who clings to continuity, who needs progressive character development to follow the path a protagonist’s life, or a reader who is in the least bit squeamish, this will likely prove to be a difficult read for you. Not an unworthy read – but a difficult one. The narrative leapt back and forth in time with new personalities and overlapping stories already told being retold differently. This book was a collage, a kaleidoscope, a reflection of a splintered self. Given the subject matter, the shattered quality of the narrative is understandable but at times arduous to read.

It was hard for me to fully connect with Freshwater when the moments of truth, heartbreak and the demise of entire relationships in Ada’s life were narrated, not fully shown in action. Emezi’s debut novel is more about the relationship between Ada and her other selves –internally—than it is about her outward experiences in the world. (view spoiler) It wasn’t enough for me, though some parts of the novel were absolutely gripping, and there were some lovely lines scattered throughout.

He wanted to pretend he was somehow better than he knew he was; he wasn’t ready to throw himself into sin. Humans find it easier to just lie and lie to themselves.

However, in those neglected moments (which is probably why the book is relatively short) the novel loses its soul and misses opportunities.

Other qualms:

The quote headings at the start of each chapter made no sense to me in the context of the story. Often, they made no sense to me at all though I got the feeling that they were Nigerian sayings. And I had too many WTF moments here because of the haphazard way life events and realizations were thrown into the narrative, no build-up, just dumped. I found myself reading whole passages and thinking, Where did this come from – outta thin air? That was the main issue I had with this novel: there was no real character development aside from Ada and Ewan, just a series of narrations and events.

I also never understood the title of the book. There was a reference to it at the end of the novel, but I found it to be too cryptic and unclear, so I still have no idea what it was trying to convey, why it was the namesake of the book. Because of this, I had the noteworthy experience of loving and hating Freshwater. There were moments where I couldn’t wait to turn the page and others where I skimmed past the incoherence of the We. Because of that, Freshwater’s dazzling and dreadful moments condensed down into a grade of 3 stars. ***

*I received an advance-read copy of the book from the publisher, Grove Press, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


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Akwaeke Emezi Akwaeke Emezi

Green by Sam Graham-Felsen

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 2nd 2018 by Random House

A novel of race and privilege in America that you haven’t seen before: a coming-of-age story about a life-changing friendship, propelled by an exuberant, unforgettable voice.

“This isn’t some Jedi bull****; the force I’m talking about is real, and its energies are everywhere, working on everyone.”

Boston, 1992. David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at the Martin Luther King Middle School. Everybody clowns him, girls ignore him, and his hippie parents won’t even buy him a pair of Nikes, let alone transfer him to a private school. Unless he tests into the city’s best public high school–which, if practice tests are any indication, isn’t likely–he’ll be friendless for the foreseeable future.

Nobody’s more surprised than Dave when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him in the school cafeteria. Mar’s a loner from the public housing project on the corner of Dave’s own gentrifying block, and he confounds Dave’s assumptions about black culture: He’s nerdy and neurotic, a Celtics obsessive whose favorite player is the gawky, white Larry Bird. Together, the two boys are able to resist the contradictory personas forced on them by the outside world, and before long, Mar’s coming over to Dave’s house every afternoon to watch vintage basketball tapes and plot their hustle to Harvard. But as Dave welcomes his new best friend into his world, he realizes how little he knows about Mar’s. Cracks gradually form in their relationship, and Dave starts to become aware of the breaks he’s been given–and that Mar has not.

Infectiously funny about the highs and lows of adolescence, and sharply honest in the face of injustice, Sam Graham-Felsen’s debut is a wildly original take on the struggle to rise in America.


I will be surrounded by dudes like this for the rest of my life. White boys and white girls who grew up behind whitewashed fences, who grew up with no idea, for the rest of my life. The force preordained it: Not only will I be surrounded by them, I will become one of them, the thing I hate and can’t escape. Not a white boy or a whitey or a white b*tch, but a white person.

If you’re looking for a way to start your new year out right, Green is absolutely the way to go. Prepare yourself to be transported by a distinctive voice and a story line that screams with authenticity. More than authentic—it was one that mirrored what middle school was like for me in the 90s: the same cliques, the same typecasts, the same social rules. This novel transported me back to those days, back to those vibrations in the air, to that slang on our tongues, to those priorities in our pre-teen minds and to those questions that plagued our thoughts night and day about the world around us and our place in it.

Picture it (in my Estelle Getty voice): Boston, 1992.

David Greenfeld is one of the only white sixth graders at Martin Luther King Middle School—the “ghetto” school—with no friends, no cool points, and no chance at getting a girl. His Harvard-educated, politically correct, granola parents don’t understand his pleas to be removed from the school, and there seems to be no end to the social torture in sight. Until. He meets Marlon Wellings, an ultra-smart, Boston Celtics-obsessed, black kid from the projects across the street whose street smarts start to rub off on Dave and who’s life in the hood and drive to get out of it spark questions in Dave’s mind he’s never contemplated before.

In Green, Sam Graham-Felsen gives us a fresh look at the merging of two cultures, literally painting it is a physical intersection of neighborhoods as well as of cultural mores and rules. I couldn’t help but remember another book I’ve reviewed recently that was also a coming-of-age story with a jumping off point from the ’92 L.A. riots—and all the while, I marveled at how much better this story was told, at how much more the voice and experiences rang true. Graham-Felsen brought these characters to life on the page. He gave them hopes and made them my hopes. He made them fall, and I felt the blow myself. And he made them fail, as we all do in life sometimes. It is in those moments that this novel’s heart is most evident and that its impact slammed into me the hardest.

Through Dave and Marlon, Graham-Felsen explores the color line through the eyes of adolescents still finding themselves amidst the chaos of race relations. What really set this novel apart for me is that he gave us the perspective of the white side of the fence, while still being true to both stories, to both cultures.

In school the next day, Ms. Ansley shows us another installment of this long, made-for-TV movie we’ve been watching called Roots. When she introduced it, she said we needed to know our history, especially after what happened in L.A…I hear people shifting in their chairs. The violence is one thing: We all know the wounds are just makeup, the whip’s just a prop, the loud crack’s only a sound effect. But the n-word is different. Even if it’s just acting, it’s still the real n-word. I’ve heard it ten thousand times…but always with the soft ending. Hearing it with the hard er …makes my face muscles clench up even thinking about it. All that evil, all that power, packed into two tiny syllables.

Then, we have ‘the force.’

As their school year progresses and confrontations are had, as Dave’s belief in religion is explored and his cross into cultures and upbringings other than his own changes his outlook on his surroundings, he begins to ponder the idea of ‘the force,’ his interpretation of race relations around him. He sees it everywhere. It peppers his every interaction with the world around him, and jolts him out of adolescence and into a more adult mindset:

It seemed like the smoke of those riots spread all across the continent, all the way to Boston, like they were looking for their own Reginald Denny, because as far as I could tell they stepped for no other reason than the fact that I was white. But as I ran away…I began to wonder if maybe I was looking at them the wrong way, the same way I must have stared at the TV screen when those dudes bundled Denny—a shook and boggled look that said, You are predators—and maybe that made them want to treat me like prey. All summer, I tried to deny the force, but I felt it every time I got checked on my way past the Shaw Homes…And I felt ashamed of that…and yeah, I’ve been feeling ashamed that the force has been with me, pretty much nonstop…

Green was an entertaining read and one that provoked thought. There were moments when I laughed out loud and, yes, even a moment when I cried. There’s something for everyone within these pages, because we all know at least one of these characters, from the granola do-gooders to that kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Here’s your chance now to get glimpse into their world. I wouldn’t be saying enough to say that I highly recommend this book for readers of all sizes, colors and creeds who are ready to open their minds and their outlooks. I even recommend it for all ages, because the cultural boundaries explored within Green are real and not to be ignored. The tragedies of everyday life surrounding us are real and not to be downplayed. And the line between the haves and the have nots, the clueless and the culturally aware, the predators and the prey is real and should never, ever be doubted. 4.5 stars. *****


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Sam Graham-Felsen Writer based in Brooklyn. Author of the novel, GREEN (Random House, Jan 2018). Former chief blogger for Barack Obama.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: January 9th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

“There are two major theories about how to stop aging…”
“…It sounds like you’re saying we can choose to live. Or we can choose to survive.”

Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists is a thoughtfully executed novel written in simple, yet often poetic, prose that allowed the characters’ voices at their most forceful to shine on their own past the narrative itself. More than that, it is a novel crafted around a question we all ask ourselves more often than we’d care to admit: “Is it more important to truly live or to survive? To dare to dream at our grandest or to play it safe?” And, if you knew the exact day on which you’d die, would you live your life any differently than you would without that hateful knowledge?

In their youth, the Gold siblings follow a rumor to the home of a Gypsy fortune teller who gives them the knowledge they seek: the exact dates of their deaths. These prophecies propel them forward for the rest of their lives, influencing their decisions, changing the courses of their lives and plunging the question into the forefront of their minds forever: Was the fortune teller right, and, if so, can they change the course of their own fates?

It’s an intriguing idea, we must all admit. A scary one. A downright chilling one. And the leitmotif Benjamin poses to her reader manifests itself throughout the novel with compelling force, from the exploration of God and country’s place within our existence, to what the prophecy of one’s own death does to such beliefs. Do we cling to such notions and ingrained dogmas all the way to the end, cowering under them safely like warm, childhood blankets, or using them to fortify us in our resolve and everyday decisions—or, do we slough off and away such religious and secular beliefs and become our own reason for living, our own life force, whether to our own detriment or benefit?

The Immortalists bounds along a timeline spanning five decades, trotting through the start of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco—

“You weren’t terrified?”
“No, not then…When doctors said we should be celibate, it didn’t feel like they were telling us to choose between sex and death. It felt like they were asking us to choose between death and life. And no one who worked that hard to live life authentically, to have sex authentically, was willing to give it up.”

¬–toward Las Vegas in the 80s and into the early years of this century, tackling tough questions, such as the logistics behind increasing the human lifespan—and the politics of attempting such a thing. For readers who enjoy novels of sweeping timelines, they’re sure to find a treat in Benjamin’s latest novel. The period settings weren’t quite as immersive as I’d hoped—the societal and technological differences in backdrop between the decades were noted but not submerging in a way that allowed me to really feel I was moving from decade to decade with true authenticity. However, what I did take from this book were lessons to carry with me, delivered by poignant phrasing that outshone the actual stories of the four siblings’ lives. And that resonated loudly enough to forgive such specifics.

I had an interesting relationship with this novel as I continued my reader’s affair with it. I could not relate specifically to any one of the characters in this book. I would not have been friends with any of them in real life, and I did feel that some of the plotlines were predictable. BUT, I learned a lesson from every single one of the siblings that I took with me until the end, and each of those moments of recognition were special.

What do you want?…and if [she] answered him honestly she would have said this: To go back to the beginning. She would tell her thirteen-year-old self not to visit the woman. To her twenty-five-year old self: Find Simon, forgive him…She’d tell herself she would die, she would die, they all would…She’d tell herself that what she really wanted was not to live forever, but to stop worrying…”

This is a novel with a strong core and a big heart, with a moral and a central theme to tie all the threads together. Chloe Benjamin’s second novel continued her thus-far-established trend of exploring existential questions in our everyday lives, creating a brand for her that is sure to glimmer and shine, attracting new readers from far and wide. 4 stars ****

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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**Exclusive CHLOE BENJAMIN INTERVIEW to come!!!**

Chloe  Benjamin Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her second novel, THE IMMORTALISTS, is forthcoming from Putnam. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.