A Likely Story

Atria. Mar. 2023. 352p. ISBN 9781982199241. $27.99. F
DEBUT An unpublished manuscript becomes the catalyst for exposing family secrets in this pleasant yet uneven debut. Struggling writer Isabelle Manning is not living up to the family name. Her father Ward is a best-selling author; her mother Claire a beloved philanthropist. Two years ago, Isabelle failed to sell her novel; now she’s flat broke. Shortly after Claire dies, Isabelle’s literary agent threatens to drop her. While making an abrupt visit to Ward, who is oblivious to Isabelle’s life and is more concerned about his fan mail and celebrity status, she finds a hidden manuscript and ponders what to do next. In addition to Isabelle’s and Ward’s narrations, Claire narrates in flashbacks. Other narrators include Isabelle’s friend and potential love interest Brian; and Livia, the manuscript’s protagonist, whose story is told in sporadic chapters. Of the five, Claire’s sections are the strongest, giving a provocative look at the family before Ward’s successes. This is unfortunate because the overall narrative relies on Isabelle, who is not as compelling. And both endings—the novel’s and the manuscript’s—wrap up too neatly.
VERDICT While there are entertaining moments that will keep readers captivated, Abramson’s novel heavily hints at most of the secrets several pages before they’re revealed.
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