The Exiles: A Novel
Allison Lynn (Twitter)
Little A / New Harvest (July 2013), Hardcover (ISBN 054410210X / 9780544102101)
Fiction, 336 pages
Source: ARC from publisher
Reason for reading: TLC Book Tour
Opening lines: “Nate Bedecker stumbled as he stepped out of the Jeep. He briefly, embarrassingly (though no one was looking–he’d checked with a quick sweep of his eyes) tripped over the reedy patch of grass that bulged above the Newport curb. Three hours of driving and he’d forgotten how to use his legs. It was like old age, being thirty-eight. His muscles had no staying power anymore; the first steps he took after rising from bed each morning were a chore, his knees cracking and his ankles turning. Should he be worried?”
Book description, via Bookish.com (publisher partner site):
A couple escaping the opulent lifestyle of Manhattan’s Upper East Side move to Newport, Rhode Island, only to be confronted by the trappings of the life they tried to leave behind.
Nate, a midlevel Wall Streeter, and his longtime girlfriend Emily are effectively evicted from New York City when they find they can no longer afford their apartment. An out presents itself in the form of a job offer for Nate in Newport—complete with a bucolic, small, and comparatively affordable new house. Eager to start fresh, they flee city life with their worldly goods packed tightly in their Jeep Cherokee. Yet within minutes of arriving in Rhode Island, their car and belongings are stolen, and they’re left with nothing but the keys to an empty house and their bawling 10-month-old son.
Over the three-day weekend that follows, as Emily and Nate watch their meager pile of cash dwindle and tensions increase, the secrets they kept from each other in the city emerge, threatening to destroy their hope for a shared future.
Comments: I seem to have a bit of a thing for New England this summer, and Allison Lynn’s novel The Exiles kept my head there just a bit longer. The story is set in Rhode Island, one of the two states in the region that I didn’t visit on our trip last month, and takes place during the Columbus Day holiday weekend rather than in the summer (yes, the Northeast still seems to observe that one), but picking this book up just a few days after returning from nearly two weeks traveling around the area felt strangely comfortable.
“Comfortable,” however, is not a word that readily applies to Nate and Emily’s current situation. They’ve just arrived in Newport, Rhode Island after a day on the road from New York City with a fully-packed Jeep and their ten-month-old baby boy. Parenthood has forced them to recognize that they can’t keep up with the New York lifestyle any more, and Nate’s new job is offering them the chance to exile themselves to a fresh start. But when their car is stolen during the short time it takes to meet with their real-estate agent and get the keys to their new home, on the eve of a holiday weekend, that new start faces a serious setback. And while they’ve lost all the possessions they brought with them, the couple still has some baggage. Emily is struggling with the potential consequences of acting on a rash impulse two nights before their departure from New York, while Nate can barely even think about the potential consequences of a family history he needs to explore more deeply–a history he hasn’t yet shared with Emily, but which influenced the decision to move to Rhode Island in the first place. Unable to access their bank accounts due to the long weekend and left with, literally, not much more than the clothes on their backs, they’re displaced, disoriented, and anything but comfortable.
Alternating chapters between Nate’s and Emily’s perspectives, Lynn effectively portrays the tensions between the couple during a brief period in which a situation that’s stressful enough on its own–a long-distance move–is made more so by crime, dishonesty, and a lack of openness with each other. I didn’t doubt their commitment to one another–they’re unmarried by choice–and to their son, but the strain was clear from the beginning, and the more I learned about each of them, the more I hoped they’d get themselves sorted out. The author establishes the stakes for her characters through a compressed timeframe, an unfamiliar place, and information that the reader learns before they do, and succeeds in building drama from (mostly) recognizable human behavior–sprinkled with some coincidence and just about the right amount of plot contrivance. The Exiles hits a lot of my sweet spots for contemporary domestic fiction, and although I’m not sure it’s a novel that will still resonate for me by the end of this year, it was an absorbing summer read.