Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: "The Inseparables" by Stuart Nadler

Henrietta Olyphant was once a bit of a radical feminist, a professor of women's studies in New York, who often spoke about the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated society. Yet after she married her chef husband, who moved her to a farmhouse in a Boston suburb, and while she was raising their infant daughter, she decided to write a book. The Inseparables was a smutty, titillating romp about female sexual liberation which was reviled by critics and feminists alike, but beloved by everyone else, and Henrietta was never able to escape her reputation as the author of this book for the rest of her life.

Now 70 years old, recently widowed and in desperate need of money, Henrietta reluctantly agrees to an anniversary reissue of the book, despite the fact that it will net her the same kind of notoriety it did back in its heyday. And yet because of her financial predicament, she is willing to do whatever it takes to promote the book she has referred to for years as That Thing or That Motherfucking Thing.

Meanwhile, Henrietta's daughter, Oona, a successful orthopedic surgeon, has moved back to her childhood home with her mother, as she is in the midst of a divorce from her husband Spencer, a perpetually stoned former lawyer. And Oona's daughter, Lydia, a smart, sarcastic 15-year-old, finds herself suspended from the exclusive private school she begged her parents to attend when a nude picture she took of herself is stolen and goes viral on social media.

Over the course of a tumultuous week, all three women make surprising discoveries about themselves and those they care about, struggle with their relationships with one another, and they must come to terms with their own shortcomings. They realize they're poor decision makers in many instances, but that shouldn't doom them to unhappiness, no matter what stage of their lives they're at.

This is a sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant book about family, relationships, love, loss, memory, and self-discovery. I really enjoyed the characters and felt for them, although they definitely are flawed in some ways. The dynamics between Henrietta and Oona, and Oona, Spencer, and Lydia were definitely a highlight of the book.

"They were the sort of family that kept their declarations of affection silent, or at least repressed them and disguised them as the typical ingredients of mother-daughter-granddaughter dysfunction: guilt, conflict, shame, cookies, All of these, you were to understand if you were an Olyphant, were an acceptable stand-in for love."

If I have any criticism of the book, it's the way I felt the situation regarding Lydia was handled. Other than one scene with Spencer when he really realizes the extent of what is going on, I was frustrated by his and Oona's real lack of attention to their daughter's crisis, and Lydia's refusal to acknowledge what was going on. I understand a lot of it was denial, but it just didn't sit well with me.

I think Stuart Nadler is a great writer; I was a big fan of his previous book, Wise Men, which also dealt with family dynamics and dysfunction, albeit with the males in a family. Nadler is a terrific storyteller who really gets you emotionally involved in his characters' lives. So while I felt this wasn't a perfect book by any means, it was definitely entertaining, moving, and a very enjoyable read.

NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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