If you read a lot of modern literary fiction, as I do, you tend to read a lot of dysfunctional-family novels. But what are the odds that I’d happen to read two dysfunctional-family novels in a single year that both deal with the aftermath of the publication of an infamous book about sex? (The Position by Meg Wolitzer was the first.)
The sexy volume that’s continued to reverberate through the generations in Stuart Nadler’s The Inseparables is a novel that sounds like a combination of Fear of Flying and Valley of the Dolls—irresistibly trashy, in other words. Henrietta, now in her 70s, has spent most of her adult life trying to live down the notoriety of her book, which has remained a cult classic even as it’s fallen out of print. Finally, she has agreed to let the book be republished in a new edition, because after the death of her husband (whose failed restaurant left a mountain of debt in its wake), she desperately needs the money.
Henrietta’s daughter Oona is a workaholic surgeon whose marriage is falling apart; we also meet Oona’s teenage daughter Lydia, whose young life is being ruined by a topless selfie that’s been making the rounds online. Both of these storylines seemed less compelling to me than Henrietta’s (a chapter about the decline of her husband’s once-successful restaurant was particularly poignant); Oona falls into an affair with her couples therapist, which seems almost too over-the-top, and the indifference by authorities (by both police and school) to Lydia’s stolen photo, which is essentially child pornography, as she is underage, felt a little unrealistic. A few days after finishing The Inseparables, it is Henrietta’s story that has continued to linger in my mind.