Random. Nov. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9780399591341. $28. F
Pulitzer Prize winner Cunningham’s (The Snow Queen) first novel in nearly a decade is concise, emotionally potent, and deeply human. Without reducing it to a COVID-19 novel, it represents the latest effort by a major author to fracture a narrative through the pandemic prism, occluded only barely by Cunningham’s resistance to naming it outright. The snapshot narrative is constructed of three different days, April 5 of 2019, 2020, and 2021, and follows one family’s navigation of change and tragedy. Cunningham situates the character of Robbie as a locus for all others and cleverly lends his narrative a splintered feeling in parts two and three after a primary mid-novel incident. The downside to this structure is that the novel’s back half can feel less substantially developed, both emotionally and narratively, than its excellent opening act. However, at its best, it is a work keenly aware of humanity’s essential ephemerality, the ways in which we prove capable of haunting the lives of those around us while still alive, and how easily we can slip away from each other.
VERDICT Unevenly paced and structured, but Cunningham’s quietly powerful observations help mitigate its imperfections.
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