New Fiction: The Tell – Hester Kaplan

This book won me over with the sentences–I think I was in love five pages in. Kaplan is the sort of writer who can make a sentence a synesthetic experience. An example: check out her description of the young husband of the story describing the vacant old Baltimore mansion next door to his home:

He’d been inside only once, after the ancient owner had croaked in her bed and the place had been efficiently emptied by her officious out-of-state children.  The apocalyptic vacancy of the rooms, the fissured ceilings, the washcloth on the floor of the tub, the isopropyl chill in the air, had awed him. There was something about all those aristocratic details of leaded glass, inlaid floors and lights hanging like distended organs that made him think of an old man, useless now in a threadbare suit and expensive shoes whom no one wanted to talk to anymore.  He couldn’t imagine who would want to take on the colossus—smaller and less elaborate than the one he and Mira lived in, but still daunting and ridiculous enough—who would want to coddle it and tend to its bounty of needs, its pickiness.”

Thrilling. So what about the plot? It’s the story of a young couple whose lives are upended when a forgotten TV star moves into the house next to theirs. Maybe it’s because this story takes place in Baltimore, but Kaplan’s humor and generosity—the way the improbable is made logical—all reminded me of Anne Tyler. Overall though, this book felt darker, the risks and errors a little more breath-taking. What both writers have in common is deep, imaginative compassion for their characters that allows you to fully inhabit their lives.

“Kaplan writes with remarkable acuity about the psychological challenges faced by each of her vulnerable characters, drawing the reader into their struggles to deal with their past mistakes and their attempts to forge a more stable future. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy the psychologically complex work of Annie Proulx, or Stewart O’Nan.”  — Booklist

“A wise and clever novel, The Tell is a kind of anagramatic homage to The Great Gatsby, updated for our own American time. The competing forces of true love and false idols are played out beautifully in the course of a roiling relationship with a larger-than-life neighbor. Kaplan is a sentence-maker of the highest order, and this is a wonderful book.”   — Antonya Nelson

The Tell (9780062184023) by Hester Kaplan, $14.99 trade paper original. 1/8/13 on sale.

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