STARRED REVIEW
October 07, 2014

Revisiting the past to make a brighter present

By Alan Lightman

Reunion is a novel of death and life and family. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive, and what happens when those narratives break down and we’re forced to grapple with real life and real people.

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Reunion is a novel of death and life and family. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive, and what happens when those narratives break down and we’re forced to grapple with real life and real people.

Kate lives in Chicago with her husband, Peter. He’s a therapist; she teaches screenwriting. Their lives look perfect from the outside, but Kate’s struggling with financial dependence on Peter that seems to be driving them apart. She hides the internal battle between loyalty to herself and fidelity to her husband so well that no one sees what she’s really thinking—not Peter, and certainly not her family.

She grew up in Atlanta, in privilege that she alternately tries to shake off and run back to. Her mother died when she was young, and her father responded by marrying a string of women who were less evil stepmothers and more inattentive and temporary babysitters. Despite an impressively large set of step-siblings, Kate considers her “original” siblings, Nell and Elliot, to be her only true family. She’s cut everyone else, even her father, out of the picture.

But the mythologies that served her so well as a child—her father as caricature, her step-families as disposable, her relationship with Nell and Elliot as sacred—begin to break down when her father commits suicide and the family returns to the South.

Kate’s world seems to wilt in the Atlanta heat. Her own marriage seems unfixable; her career is stalled; her debt is crushing. She struggles to hide the truth from both herself and her family, and in attempting that illusion only succeeds in making desperate choices that hurt everyone, including herself.

The story author Hannah Pittard tells us isn’t new, but it feels fresh and true anyway. We actually care as Kate struggles to hide the truth (from herself as much as from her family), and we care as she tries to undo the results of her self-destructive behavior. Because Kate sees her own shortcomings as much as she finds them in others, she’s relatable, and it’s this self-awareness that makes Reunion truly unique and insightful.

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Reunion

Reunion

By Alan Lightman
Pantheon
ISBN 9780375421679

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