Shelf Awareness Book Talk: THE TELL, by Hester Kaplan

The Tell: A Novel
Hester Kaplan
Harper Perennial (January 2013), trade paper (ISBN 0062184024 / 9780062184023)
Fiction, 352 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (January 22, 2013). Shelf Awareness provided a galley of the book and compensation for the review.

Opening lines:
“For weeks he’d waited for the wild lilacs arching over the carriage house to come to bloom. Then, back from teaching and a plodding swim at the Y in the afternoon, Owen had spotted the first fat plume with its buds rising like a thousand fists. The driveway’s pea gravel had protested underfoot as he broke off a sprig. He’d put the lilacs, delicate and strong-perfumed, in a pitcher on the sill over the sink for his wife Mira and saw now, as he looked up from his hands circling under running water, how their hue matched the lowering sky, the drooping sun.”

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
An elegant and haunting novel of love and family, The Tell demands that we reconsider our notions of marriage—duty, compromise, betrayal, and the choice to stand by or leave the ones we love. 

Mira and Owen’s marriage is less stable than they know when Wilton Deere, an aging, no longer famous TV star moves in to the grand house next door. With plenty of money and plenty of time to kill, Wilton is charming but ruthless as he inserts himself into the couple’s life in a quest for distraction, friendship—and most urgently—a connection with Anya, the daughter he abandoned years earlier. Facing stresses at home and work, Mira begins to accompany Wilton to a casino and is drawn to the slot machines. Escapism soon turns to full-on addiction and a growing tangle of lies and shame that threatens her fraying marriage and home. Betrayed and confused, Owen turns to the mysterious Anya, who is testing her own ability to trust her father after many years apart. 

The Tell is a finely-wrought novel about risk: of dependence, of responsibility, of addiction, of trust, of violence. Told with equal parts suspense, sympathy, and psychological complexity, it shows us the intimate and shifting ways in which we reveal ourselves before we act, and what we assume but don’t know about those closest to us.

Comments: Those close to us will often, over time, learn to recognize our “tells,” physical signals of our state of mind–signals we may always not be conscious we’re sending. Deciphering those signals is much harder than learning to spot them, though, and without clear and direct communication, they’re subject to misinterpretation. Hester Kaplan’s The Tell explores a husband’s efforts to unravel exactly what his wife’s tells are telling him.

Providence, Rhode Island seems an odd place to find a retired sitcom actor, but Wilton Deere has moved there in an attempt to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter Anya. Mira Thrasher, surprised to find that the man she watches on TV during her late-night bouts of insomnia is living next door, invites him to dinner. As Wilton becomes a bigger part of their lives, enlisting Mira and her husband Owen into his efforts to win over Anya, Owen becomes increasingly unsettled by Mira and Wilton’s developing relationship. When he finds that Mira has been disappearing from the struggling art school she runs to spend hours at a nearby casino with Wilton, Owen fears she’s developing a gambling problem. If she is, it’s not the couple’s only problem.

The Tell is provocative, beautifully written, and offers great discussion potential. In exploring the choices we make in our closest relationships, including the things we can’t tell each other, Hester Kaplan draws an unsettlingly intimate portrait of a marriage in crisis.

Rating: 3/5
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