White Elephant – Julie Langsdorf

whiteelephantPerfect for fans of Tom Perrotta and Jonathan Tropper, White Elephant is an impressive debut that I binge-read in a couple of days. These neighbors are so dysfunctional, and yet, so relatable. I wanted to simultaneously hug and yell at every character in this book.

Charming 100-year-old Sears homes, a children’s library, the local coffee shop where everyone has their own mug . . . an idyllic bedroom community for upper-middle class families. All is perfect in Willard Park, until newcomer architect Nick Cox moves in and begins building massive mansions that loom over the cozy smaller houses. His neighbor Ted is at first moved to peaceful protest, but Willard Park is a crucible, boiling everyone’s fears and insecurities into an explosion.

White Elephant is packed with flawed characters that are entertaining and sympathetic (well, most of them anyway). There’s Ted, the do-gooder who just wants his small town back; his wife, Allison, stifled in her sexless marriage and tempted by other options; their daughter Jillian, who just wants to be noticed; their neighbors, the volatile Nick and his trophy wife, Kaye, who is not as vapid as she appears; and new to the neighborhood, the pothead lawyer Grant and his wife Suzanne, who is coming to realize her marriage is going up in smoke.

Animosity simmers until Nick Cox cuts down the maple tree that Ted planted when his daughter was born. The vitriol escalates exponentially, and the residents of Willard Park start behaving in ways they never deemed possible.

This book is quite a page-turner, and each chapter introduces more conflict. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to HarperCollins and Ecco Press for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

The Eulogist – Terry Gamble

The Eulogist is much more than the typical 19th century abolitionist trope.

euologistjpegThis is the tumultuous story of an immigrant family of three very different siblings: James, the eldest, a chandler, reliable but unyielding; Olivia, the middle sister, inquisitive and intelligent, but forthright to a fault; and Erasmus, the prodigal, itinerant black sheep, taken in with the charismatic river preachers, who leaves the family to follow his heart, often with his priorities askew.

All three siblings clash and reunite out of devotion to a common cause. The book follows this family and their hopes and tragedies through most of the 19th century, exploring the immigrant experience during the dynamic upheaval of a developing nation. The Eulogist presents the moral indignation of slavery felt by many during this time, but also shows the reader a more realistic spectrum of abolitionism, from mild disapproval to vehement activism.

The Eulogist is a comprehensive story of a family, with nuanced detail that enhances the energy of bustling 19th century America. The story is well told, full of twists and revelations, and I tore through it in a matter of days. Gamble’s attention to detail is above reproach, and her characterizations are perceptive without being sentimental.

This is historical fiction at its best.

Many thanks to William Morrow Books (Harper Collins) for the advance copy in exchange for my review. It was a joy to read.