Plot: 3/5 Characters: 4/5 Writing: 4/5
Engaging novel about the complex family dynamics of three generations of Stricks: Astrid (a 68-year old widow and newly woke bi-sexual), her three adult children, and her teenage granddaughter Cecelia — all in various stages of “growing up.” Evolving relationships between couples, parents and children, siblings, friends, and ex-lovers pepper the plot. Featuring lesbians, bi-sexuals, single mothers, and trans teens, there are strong themes around gender norms, roles and expectations and the impact they have on our lives.
The characters are all well-drawn and interesting, the writing insightful and clean, the story interesting. My only complaint is the (mostly) subtle anti-man feeling permeating the text. All the male characters are stunted, shallow, or dead with the exception of one delightful teen boy … who actually turns out to be a girl in boy-skin (trans). There were even a couple of quotes which were meant to be light and funny, but really are pretty awful:
“It seemed so easy, to cut out the creeps and sexual predators, just by cutting out all the men.”
“It’s always white men, you know, nine times out of ten. It’s white men who turn to violence against their families, against strangers, against the world.”
This kind of thinking is a big problem. Even if it’s true that most violence is done by men (and reducing the set with “white” is actually completely incorrect), it does not at all follow that most men are violent. This is the kind of sloppy thinking and gross over-generalization that brings out hate all over the place. I wish authors would be more careful about popularizing this kind of thought.
That aside, I did enjoy the book. Some very good lines:
“Astrid’s greatest strength, as a person, had always been her iron tear ducts.”
“Any perks were vastly outweighed by the crushing feeling of apocalyptic failure and profound injustice.”
“So much of becoming an adult was distancing yourself from your childhood experiences and pretending they didn’t matter, then growing to realize they were all that mattered and composed 90 percent of your entire being.”
“No one laughed at gorgeous white men. It was a design flaw in the universe.”
“Nicky made marriage look like an art project, and Elliot made it look like prison.”
“Cecelia wanted the Hollywood version of her own life — fast-forward, with wrinkles made out of papier-mache. It was too hard to wait and see.”
“All love settled. Not settling for something less than you deserved, just settled down, the way breath settles in a sleeping body, not doing more than necessary.”
“That was the problem with being part of a family: Everyone could mean well and it could still be a disaster. Love didn’t cure all, not in terms of missed communication and hurt feelings during an otherwise uneventful dinner conversation.”
“The downside of Buddhism, as Cecelia understood it, and also of years of therapy, was that no one ever seemed to think anything was their fault. Everything was always open to everyone else’s feelings, or the ultimate balance of the universe. If the point of life was to let things go, then you never had to be sorry about anything.”
Thank you to Riverhead Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 5th, 2020.