AFTER THE FALL — A REVIEW

Life in TriBeCa in the late summer and early fall of 2001 seems precarious to Corrine and Russell Calloway, whose marriage may be on the skids.

Corrine has returned to her career, while still juggling motherhood and other commitments; Russell seems detached and distant, arousing all of the suspicions that have accompanied the two of them since their separation a few years previously.

“When she had yearned to be a mother, imagining what it would be like to be a parent, it had been easy to conjure the joy…the scenes of tenderness, the Pieta moments. What you don’t picture are the guilt and the fear that take up residence at the front of your brain, like evil twins you didn’t bargain for. Fear, because you’re always worried about what might go wrong, especially if your kids were born, as hers were, three months early.”

In the opening pages of The Good Life, we sense who these characters are, with their privileged lifestyle that should make them the objects of envy. However, we can also see the fraying seams of their existence.

Suddenly and totally out of the blue, their worlds are shattered by the events a few days later. The 9/11 events that turned a city into a shocking inferno, and the rest of the world into a frightening place to live.

In the aftermath, Corrinne happens upon a man near Ground Zero.

“Staggering up West Broadway, coated head to foot in dun ash, he looked like a statue commemorating some ancient victory, or, more likely, some noble defeat–a Confederate general, perhaps. That was her second impression….”

And she thus meets Luke McGavock, a man who will become a central part of her life in the weeks ahead. His life, too, is unraveling.

In these moments when the two of them connect, the tragic events seemingly open them to new possibilities. A little while later, they become connected further when they volunteer at a kind of soup kitchen for the rescue workers.

What will next happen between them? Will their common goals lead to something more? Will they reach out for the comfort of each other to assuage the ills of their marriages? Or will the baggage of their lives prevent a fresh start?

The author’s prose captured my attention and kept me turning pages. I soon came to care about Corrinne and Luke, and less so about their spouses, Russell and Sasha.

I wanted the journey to continue, with everyone learning valuable lessons from what had happened. But in the end, would the old habits and expectations cling to them all like the ash from the inferno? Would only a residual of the experience remain to remind them of what could have been? A story that seemed to promise much, but didn’t quite deliver what I hoped for. Four stars.

TUESDAY INTROS/TEASERS: THE GOOD LIFE — APRIL 24

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Just grab your book and share the opening lines; then find another excerpt that “teases” the reader.  Today I’m featuring a book that’s been on my TBR stacks, languishing away, and I’m now eager to dive in.  The Good Life, by Jay McInerney, is a story of love, family, conflicting desires, and catastrophic loss in his most powerfully searing work thus far.

Opening Lines:  Summer used to be as endless as the ocean when she was a girl and her family rented the gray shingled cottage on Nantucket.  Now she found it hard to believe she was already back in Manhattan and the kids were in school and she was already racing home, late again, feeling guilty that she’d lingered over a drink with Casey Reynes.  The kids had been home for hours after their first day in first grade, and she had yet to hear about it.

Women blamed themselves; men blamed anything but.

This was Corrine’s interpretation of the guilt nipping at her high heels as she cantered up Hudson Street from the subway, passing the hand-lettered sign in the window of their Chinese takeout:  FRESHLY GROUND COFFEE.  Guilt about leaving the kids for so long, about not helping Russell with dinner, about attempting to restart her long-dormant professional life.  Oh, to be grounded herself.  Seven-fifteen by her watch.  Still attuned to the languorous rhythm of the summer—they’d just closed up the house in Sagaponack four days ago—she’d barely had time to kiss the kids good-bye this morning and now the guests would be arriving at any minute, Russell frenzied with cooking and child care.

Bad mother, bad wife, bad hostess.  Bad.

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What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

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Teaser:  How were you supposed to trust your judgment when your sense of proportion and balance had been shattered, when the governing body that generally checked your emotions was overthrown, anarchy threatening to break out at any moment? p. 161

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Amazon Description:  Clinging to a semiprecarious existence in TriBeCa, Corrine and Russell Calloway have survived a separation and are thoroughly wonderstruck by young twins whose provenance is nothing less than miraculous, even as they contend with the faded promise of a marriage tinged with suspicion and deceit. Meanwhile, several miles uptown and perched near the top of the Upper East Side’s social register, Luke McGavock has postponed his accumulation of wealth in an attempt to recover the sense of purpose now lacking in a life that often gives him pause—especially with regard to his teenage daughter, whose wanton extravagance bears a horrifying resemblance to her mother’s. But on a September morning, brightness falls horribly from the sky, and people worlds apart suddenly find themselves working side by side at the devastated site, feeling lost anywhere else, yet battered still by memory and regret, by fresh disappointment and unimaginable shock. What happens, or should happen, when life stops us in our tracks, or our own choices do? What if both secrets and secret needs, long guarded steadfastly, are finally revealed? What is the good life?

Posed with astonishing understanding and compassion, these questions power a novel rich with characters and events, both comic and harrowing, revelatory about not only New York after the attacks but also the toll taken on those lucky enough to have survived them. Wise, surprising, and, ultimately, heart-stoppingly redemptive, The Good Life captures lives that allow us to see–through personal, social, and moral complexity–more clearly into the heart of things.

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What are you sharing today?  I hope you’ll come on by with some comments and links.