Imagine you’re about to start over – leave Manhattan for Rhode Island – and your Jeep, packed with all of your belongings, gets stolen. Imagine it’s a holiday weekend and the banks are closed and your credit cards have been cancelled and all you have is $84. Imagine that instead of going to your new house and sleeping on the floor (can’t buy beds, the stores are closed too) you check into a hotel and book a suite you can’t afford. Imagine you have a ten-month-old son and many secrets. Imagine that you are Nate or Emily.
As unmarried parents, Nate and Emily are a unique sort of couple – bound not by an institution but instead by the son they have together. They spend the novel either inside their own heads or talking to one another – but not about things that matter. Nate has recently suspected he may be a carrier of the Huntington’s gene – or already infected with the hereditary disease. Emily has a stolen, multi-million-dollar piece of art in her possession – because she stole it and the cops have come calling. Yet neither of them has informed the other of the secret they’ve been hoarding. Instead they’ve holed up in this hotel, trying to be economical so their money doesn’t run out. Economical with money, economical with knowledge…no difference, right? Of course there is.
Emily and Nate will grate on you at first. For the first few chapters they will moan and groan about their first-world problems, how they’ve been “evicted” from Manhattan because they cannot keep up with the Joneses. Nate *only* makes $150,000 a year and they can’t afford their apartment. They feel like an embarrassment in front of their friends – they’ve had to borrow a Bugaboo instead of buy one and no longer eat out in fancy restaurants, only diners. Yes, they feel like exiles, from their old lives and from the lives they imagined. So these are their problems: having to exchange city life for sea-side living and having to trust the future to chance.
These are their problems until they aren’t anymore, until their minor, infantile preoccupations become subsumed with things much bigger. Nate discovers Emily’s stolen artwork, his father has a major car accident, and he finally spills about the Huntingtons as emotional hell ensues.
This book is a lesson in perspective – what is more important money or health? Honesty at the cost of shame or thievery for the sake of an impression? The answers are obvious to us but for these characters it takes the length of the novel – or one long holiday weekend – to get there.
Lynn writes competently, with intelligent, conversational prose. The book is readable and entertaining – you’ll keep going if only to see how things resolve themselves (to Lynn’s credit she ties up some threads but leaves others hanging). The Exiles got a 3-star rating on GoodReads and I think that’s accurate – you’ll like the book – but not really like it, or think it’s amazing. Why? What’s missing? Perhaps it’s the writing – the prose is serviceable, not striking. And the scope of the novel doesn’t go far enough. The art work thievery seems almost silly and Nate’s worry futile, really. Why not get tested or at least tell Emily? These characters are stuck in ruts, but in taking too long to get out of holes of their own making they lose the reader’s sympathy – and their patience.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours and New Harvest Publishing for my advance reader’s copy!