Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: "The News from the End of the World" by Emily Jeanne Miller

Things aren't going so well for Vance Lake. He's just lost his job teaching college, he's broke, and yet another relationship has ended. With no other alternative, he heads up to Cape Cod for his twin brother Craig's house, where he hopes to lick his wounds and figure out his next move. But when he arrives at Craig's, he discovers that he's not the only Lake in the midst of serious turmoil.

Craig, too, is struggling financially, as he and his wife Gina recently did a great deal of remodeling of their home, which Craig was counting on being paid for by business from his design-build firm. He's gaining weight, losing money, his wife is considering having an affair with one of his best friends (although he's unaware of this), and his biggest disappointment is that his 17-year-old daughter Amanda, who should be getting ready to start at Dartmouth in the fall, is in a downward spiral, and now she's pregnant.

The Lake brothers handle their crises in different ways—Vance prefers getting stoned, while Craig alternates between sullen silence and fits of rage, directed at everyone—Gina, Amanda, himself, and his favorite target, his misfit twin brother. For the longest time, Vance is kept in the dark about what is happening with Amanda, and he tries desperately to help, as he's always had a special place in his heart for his niece, but when he learns the truth, it stirs up memories he had tried to forget.

Amanda is upset she let her father down but is angry at the way he's treating her, and she also feels betrayed and alone. She knows the decision she needs to make to get her life back on track, but isn't sure she can. And Gina, who has always stuck by Craig through the hard times, finds it growing more difficult to do so, especially when one of his longtime friends starts making her feel beautiful again. But mostly, she's trying to be supportive of Amanda, regardless of the friction that decision could bring to her marriage.

The News from the End of the World takes place over a period of four tumultuous days, and chapters are narrated alternately by Vance, Craig, Gina, and Amanda. This is a family with all sorts of problems, and most of them don't seem to be handling things well at all. But of course, if they were willing to communicate with each other honestly instead of gravitating to anger and rehashing old grudges, things would certainly be better!

I thought this was a good, if predictable, look at a family in crisis. Emily Jeanne Miller has thrown a lot of things at her characters and they're not sure if they'll sink or swim. Miller knows how to tell a story and make you want to keep reading, but some of her characters have so many issues and unresolved feelings, that they're not particularly sympathetic. (Hell, Craig is a total jerk through most of the book, even though you understand why.) But you do want to know what happens to everyone, even if you may have your suspicions.

NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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