By Mona Simpson
Available now from Knopf (Penguin Random House)
Miles Adler-Rich is a privileged child of divorce and a burgeoning snoop. He likes to listen to his mother's conversations on the phone. When she starts dating a man named Eli, Miles likes him at first. But as the years pass by, little things don't add up and Miles gets serious about uncovering the truth.
The parts of CASEBOOK I liked, I really liked, but it was an uneven read. The beginning and ending both go on for too long. I would admire the dedication to unraveling the consequences to Miles' actions if they weren't mostly mundane and boring. (Hint: It makes his mother sad.) I never found Miles' voice quite convincing either. He's privileged, yes, but he felt so naive to me for a fourteen-year-old boy. And it was just a touch off how he was so much more into his mom's life than his own.
There are many things I liked. I did enjoy Miles relationship with his mom, loving her and wanting the best for her. I liked his relationship with his best friend Hector, which ebbs and flows throughout the novel, sometimes strong enough to be mistaken for dating. It's a nice examination of the lengths friends will go to for each other and the underlying tensions that can exist in the best relationships. I like Miles' younger twin sisters, who are slowly revealed to have their own personalities and interests as their brother opens up to them. I liked the detective who helps the boys and chides their stupider impulses.
CASEBOOK, like many novels I've read lately, isn't well-served by it's blurb. The blurb promises the boys confronting the existence of evil, which makes CASEBOOK sound much darker than it is. It mostly deals with standard literary-fiction ennui, just through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old boy. There is one revelation of stunning evil that stands out in the fact that it is buried and never mentioned again and I wish it was left out because it was jarringly nasty and really didn't add anything to the story.
I think CASEBOOK will appeal to fans of stories about dysfunctional families. The characters are all wonderfully drawn, and there's some brilliant insights into the different ways people love each other and how they treat people they love. Don't, however, go in expecting a juicy mystery.