An interrupted family vacation, unexpected visitors, a mysterious blackout—something is happening, and the world may never be the same.
On a reassuringly sunny summer day, Amanda, an account director in advertising; Clay, a college professor; and their children, Archie, 15, and Rose, 13, make their way from Brooklyn to a luxury home (swimming pool! hot tub! marble countertops!) in a remote area of Long Island they’ve rented for a family vacation. Shortly after they arrive, however, the family’s holiday is interrupted by a knock on the door: The house’s owners, a prosperous older Black couple—George Washington and his wife, Ruth—have shown up unannounced because New York City has been plunged into a blackout and their Park Avenue high-rise apartment didn’t feel safe. Soon it becomes clear that the blackout is a symptom (or is it a cause?) of something larger—and nothing is safe. Has there been a nuclear or climate disaster, a war, a terrorist act, a bomb? Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation: Why do hundreds of deer show up in the house’s well-maintained backyard or a flock of bright-pink flamingos frolic in the family pool and then fly away? What is the noise, loud enough to crack glass, that comes, without warning, once and then, later, repeatedly? Is it safer to go back to the city, to civilization, or to remain away, in a world apart? As they search for answers and adjust to what increasingly appears to be a confusing new normal, the two families—one Black, one White; one older, one younger; one rich, one middle-class—are compelled to find community amid calamity, to come together to support each other and survive. As he did in his previous novels, Rich and Pretty (2016) and That Kind of Mother (2018), Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time.
Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam’s novel is just in time for this moment.
Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020
Page Count: 256
Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020