Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Review: "Small Hours" by Jennifer Kitses

Reading this book reminded me of that classic quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke: "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

So many of the issues faced by the characters might only have been avoided if they had spoken up, rather than kept things to themselves, or figured they'd talk about it some other time.

Both Tom and Helen feel their lives are spiraling out of control, but neither has expressed that feeling to the other. At a particularly vulnerable time, they left New York City and moved more than an hour away to a suburb that promised to be the next great destination, but those plans never materialized, and they find themselves in a fairly deserted town in a house that is more than they realistically can afford.

Helen, a freelance graphic designer, is feeling overwhelmed with the challenges of a growing workload and the demands of staying home to care for the couple's twin daughters, Sophie and Ilona. Although they have made friends with the couple across the street, she still feels as if many in the neighborhood judge her, and Tom, and it's starting to make her feel increasingly angry. For reasons she cannot explain, she is edging closer and closer to the desire to inflict physical violence on someone, but she's afraid to utter this aloud or figure out why she feels this way.

Tom, meanwhile, has his own secrets—one in particular which threatens to topple everything he has. The sheer act of maintaining the fa├žade that everything is fine is taking its toll on him—he is barely sleeping and he is having trouble concentrating, which is particularly troublesome given that he works as an editor on a newswire service. He doesn't realize that Helen notices his inability to focus, but he isn't ready to discuss anything with her.

Over the course of one day, both will be pushed to their limits. Neither is prepared for what they will face, on what seems like another ordinary day, but it will test everything—their ability to parent, their jobs, their relationships with their peers, and most importantly, their marriage. And while they've seen some of what's on the horizon, most will catch them totally unprepared.

This was an interesting book, a look at a suburban marriage which seems to be imploding, both because of misunderstandings and actual misdeeds, but neither person wants to verbalize what is bothering them. Jennifer Kitses keeps dialing up the suspense, making you wonder just how far she'll push her characters, and what she'll make them face in the end. I kept approaching the story like I would a horror movie, because I wasn't sure just how out-of-hand she'd let things get. (While the book really hinted at the possibility of utter chaos, I was glad things didn't explode that badly.)

Neither character is particularly appealing the day the book takes place, but you can see what they were like when they were at their best. I'll admit, I get frustrated when the events of a book turn more on things that are unsaid, when characters tend to be stoic rather than share what's going on, and while that certainly happened in this book, it didn't seem overly egregious.

I didn't love this as much as I hoped I would, but it was very well-written, and it certainly was suspenseful to an extent. I believe this is Kitses' first novel, so she definitely has a great career ahead of her given how well this was told. I could definitely see this as an interesting movie.

NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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