A God in Ruins

Little, Brown. May 2015. 400p. ISBN 9780316176538. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316341554; lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316341530. F
"If he did survive then in the great afterward he would always try to be kind, to live a good quiet life." So muses Teddy, Ursula's brother in the sensational, time-spinning Life After Life, now given his own voice in a novel that unfolds seamlessly yet doesn't hit the operatic high notes of its predecessor. Teddy, likable yet tentative, a poet manqué working grudgingly in a bank, finds the start of World War II something of a relief. In well-wrought passages, Atkinson admirably shows the momentousness of Teddy's wartime work as a pilot without glamorizing it. Postwar, Teddy settles into the quiet life he imagined, marrying childhood sweetheart Nancy, ending up writing for a local paper, and (sadly) having just one child, Viola. Contentious and irritable (indeed, irritating), the grown Viola barely tolerates her own children or her poor old dad. Why she might be so awful emerges late and a little unsatisfactorily as we finally learn what happens to the rather aloof Nancy, whose loss to the family is hinted at throughout. Teddy, though, remains decent to the end of his long life. Or is it? The final chapter leaves one wondering.
VERDICT Beautifully written but emotionally withheld; there's more to disappointed lives then just disappointment. [See Prepub Alert, 11/3/14.]
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