Three Novels

By Susan Salter ReynoldsNovember 19, 2011

Three Novels

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck
By Nightfall


Lily Tuck
I Married You for Happiness
Atlantic Monthly Press, September 2011. 208 pp.

YOU SUSPECT IT'S TRUE: what we remember at life's end are the vacations, the concerts, the dinners with friends. In one of the most beautiful love songs in novel form you'll ever read, Nina sits with her husband's body until morning, when she will call the paramedics to take him away. Philip, her husband, has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while Nina prepares their dinner. He dies immediately — Nina holds his hand as it grows increasingly cold and remembers their most wonderful moments together. The house they rented year after year on Belle-Ile in France, the house on Pantelleria, the house on Martha's Vineyard, the dude ranch in Arizona. She remembers the birth of their daughter, Louise, the joys and hardships raising Louise, the moments when it looked as though the marriage might falter. Tuck is a genius with moments and with beauty — for this she was awarded the National Book Award for her novel, The News from Paraguay in 2004 and the PEN/Faulkner award for Siam in 2000. (Her ability to capture beauty will remind readers of Margaret Yourcenar and Marguerite Duras.) Nina remembers all the theorems that Philip, a mathematician, tried to solve. She remembers how he loved to work in the garden: "red leaf, romaine, bib ..." It is a long and beautiful night, a sad farewell.



Michael Cunningham
By Nightfall

Picador, August 2011. 256 pp.

Combine for a moment the descriptive power of a James Salter novel (oh, those beautiful things!) with the dialogue of a John Fowles novel (Daniel Martin). This is the feeling one gets reading Michael Cunningham's latest. By Nightfall, like The Hours, is chock full of literary reference, especially Thomas Mann (Death in Venice), not Virginia Woolf. Peter, gallery owner living in Soho, has worked the New York art scene for decades. His wife Rebecca is increasingly estranged, and his grown daughter Bea is also polite, but absent. He moves through Soho, taking night walks and, by day, making deals like a sleepwalker, until Rebecca's troubled younger brother, Mizzy, comes for a visit. Mizzy is an addict, a beautiful addict. He reminds Peter of one of those medieval knights lying, arms crossed over chest, in stone at the Cloisters. Peter falls in love with him, in a dangerous version of a midlife crisis. He and Rebecca have lived "a gorgeous imitation of the regular," and Peter is tired of it. He has enforced his aesthetic on his daughter, who never felt good enough, and sacrificed real love for something trendier. Now, he is paying the price.



Maile Meloy
The Apothecary

Putnam, October 2011. 353 pp.

Maile Meloy says it's for ages ten and up, and I think that includes 52. This delightful secret garden of a novel contains all of your favorite things. It's as if Meloy put London, L.A., potions, mysterious old shops, great books, adventure, and the glimmer of young love in a jar and shook it up. One spoonful and you're in. Janie Scott, the novel's heroine, is a combination of Scout (from To Kill a Mockingbird) and Lucy (from the Chronicles of Narnia). She is spunky and imaginative and wise beyond her years. She teams up with Benjamin Burrows (the apothecary's son) to protect the book that holds the cure for everything, including homesickness. What a romp! What a lark! 


LARB Contributor

Susan Salter Reynolds is a book critic and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Vermont. She has three children: Sam, Ellie, and Mia.


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