Sweet Ruin, by Cathi Hanauer. Atria Books. $24.00.
When it comes to novels, I’m easy to please: Just give me a sympathetic protagonist, literate writing, a bit of suspense, and some snappy social analysis. For some reason, that’s hard to find. Cathi Hanauer nails my checklist, though, with Sweet Ruin, an emotional cliff-hanger built around that hot-button relationship issue—adultery—and set in suburban Mommyland.
Its heroine, Elayna Leopold, is a former magazine editor turned part-time freelancer, married to a workaholic lawyer, and the mother of a six-year-old daughter. So far, so familiar. But two years ago, Elayna lost a baby son, and she’s since settled into a functional depression. The only thing that might lift her out is the cute younger guy who just moved in across the street.
His name is Kevin, spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Because Elayna has a lot to lose, starting with her husband. “I loved Paul,” she tells us. “I did at the beginning, I did six hours ago, and as far as I could fathom, I always would.” They both adore their daughter, Hazel. Hanauer is skilled at showing these loves, as well as the knee-buckling desire that threatens them. And she keeps you guessing about which side of the razor’s edge Elayna will end up on.
Before I forget, full disclosure: I asked Hanauer to become half of Tango’s wise and often hilarious “Double Edge” advice team in 2004. What I know of her (including the essay collection she edited, The Bitch in the House) I like. But life is short, and I wouldn’t have finished her book if it hadn’t hooked me, or agreed to write this review unless I’d truly enjoyed it.