Upstate by James Wood

Alan–a divorced and now re-partnered father of two adult daughters–goes with the younger daughter, Helen, to visit the older one, Vanessa, whose newish boyfriend has summoned them out of concern. (Vanessa, it seems, is depressed.) The craft is technically well executed, as one would expect from a critic who wrote a book called How Fiction Works, and the emotional truths often quite resonant–Alan navigates a business proposal from Helen and the as-yet-undisclosed knowledge that Vanessa’s boyfriend is in fact on the way out. It’s a book of talk, not a book of action.

My complaints, such as they are, are to do with things being at times a little too explicit or on the nose. Vanessa is a philosophy professor, which allows for a (to me unwelcome) aside with some of Woods’ thoughts on thoughts. And then there are the evangelical Christian next-door neighbors, conveniently placed to bring up another favorite Wood topic. And when Alan needs a bit of a jolt–oh, good, a car accident. None of that is wrong, per se; it’s just perhaps a bit wanting in imagination.

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