Hester Kaplan‘s The Tell is a fascinating piece of literary fiction. Told from the point of view of Owen Brewer, The Tell is the story of a kind of triangle that develops between Owen; his wife, Mira; and their new neighbor, Wilton Deere. Set in monied Providence, Rhode Island, The Tell examines the nature of addiction and the nuances of a marriage that is in peril. Kaplan’s writing is exquisite and makes an interesting narrative absolutely lovely to read.
Wilton Deere, the new neighbor of Owen and Mira, is a has-been television actor, consumed by the need for recognition and a kind of shoddy fame. He is nearly unable to function in his new role as a homeowner and must be rescued by Mira and Owen. His friendship with the couple makes Owen uneasy, as it becomes clear that Mira and Wilton are developing a relationship of their own, one that excludes Owen. Things come to a head for the couple when Wilton and Mira begin regularly visiting the local casino. Wilton’s addiction to fame is closely mirrored by Mira’s addiction to gambling. Additionally, Wilton attempts to build a relationship with his estranged daughter, Anya, who seems to be more interested in Owen than she is in her father.
The houses of these characters play a prominent role in this novel, as Kaplan points out in her notes at the end of the volume. In fact, it’s almost as though Mira is haunted not just by departed family members but by the very ancestral home that she still inhabits. And it’s not a haunted house but rather a house that’s doing the haunting. Wilton similarly inhabits a home that is simply unmanageable–more space than he can use, appliances that he’s unable to operate, a home that he doesn’t quite know how to maintain. The houses here are like characters. This places Kaplan’s work in the tradition of the Gothic novel. One has the sense that if only Owen and Mira and even Wilton could break away from their old, drafty, too-large houses, they could save themselves. And yet, these homes are really symbolic of the characters themselves: for example, Owen lives with Mira in her family home, and he has the definite sense of being an outsider in this home and within the privileged class of old money that it represents. Wilton’s inability to manage his home, even in a basic way, is indicative of his larger inability to manage his life and particularly interpersonal relationships.
Kaplan’s characters are compelling, even if, with the exception of Owen, they are not entirely likable. And Kaplan’s elegant, perfect, nearly-poetic writing makes this a work worth reading. It is as though Kaplan never wastes a word, always chooses her words with such precision. Her style feels effortless, always the mark of particularly lovely writing. Some readers are not, I know, impressed by literary fiction, but Kaplan’s feat truly is impressive. Here is a work that I believe will someday be considered a classic.
A special thank you to TLC Book Tours. Everyone at TLC is simply fantastic; if you are an author, I highly recommend them. You can check out the rest of the tour here.
NOTE: A free review copy was provided by the publisher. No other compensation was received.