Saturday, November 21, 2009

After You, by Julie Buxbaum

After You is Julie Buxbaum's second novel, following The Opposite of Love. While both feaure 30-something heroines struggling with family and relationship issues, I found After You to be a story with greater depth. Ellie Lerner, still struggling with the stillbirth of her son Oliver two years ago, is called to London when her best friend Lucy is murdered. Ellie steps in to help Lucy's husband Greg with eight-year-old Sophie; as the relationship with Sophie grows, so does Ellie. Her own marriage to Phillip, however, is about to collapse under the weight of her continued absence from Boston and the couple's failure to reconcile their different ways of grieving their son's death. At the same time, Ellie is discovering that Lucy had secrets she had kept from her best friend.

Those who have read The Opposite of Love would expect some humor from Buxbaum, and that is provided by Ellie's parents, a psychologist and professor who are planning to remarry after an endless cycle of break-ups and reconciliations. There's also a minor subplot featuring Ellie's brother Mikey and Sophie's teacher Claire.

I'm also starting to expect hopeful endings from Buxbaum, and After You has that as well. (Fans of Buxbaum might enjoy Stephanie Kallos's books; Kallos can write about terrible pain and still create a happy ending you believe in.)

In The Opposite of Love, Buxbaum used what was to me an annoying device: positioning the book as a letter from the main character to her child. Here, she uses the trope of rereading (I got that phrase from my literary scholar son and I may be misusing it)--in this case The Secret Garden--to greater effect. I don't think I've ever read The Secret Garden, but I plan to pick it up to see if reading it changes how I view After You.

I enjoyed this book and look forward to seeing how Buxbaum continues to evolve as a writer.

Favorite passages:
I know how to play the victim. I've done that before, maybe have been doing it for almost two years, since Oliver. And after a while, playing the victim is a form of complicity too. Seems to me that marriage can spin a thousand species of betrayal. Adultery is only one of them.

. . . sad is too light a word; I am crushed by a quiet pain. Sounding flip seems to be my only option.

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