Sometimes it's a small, unobtrusive novel that delivers the most emotional impact, a quiet assault on the status quo that reveals the essence of the human predicament. The Exiles appears to focus on the current conflicts of a modern couple priced out of New York society, starting afresh in Newport, Rhode Island. But Lynn infuses her characters with so much depth, such familiar interior struggles, that their appeal strikes a chord of commonality far beyond the impact of their story. The author captures the angst of middle- to upper-class families caught in the maw of economic uncertainty. Identity and aspirations are shaped more by society than individual endeavors, worth determined by material goods and status rather than intellectual and emotional values. It's all on show, even those clinging to their societal niche, desperate that their social circle not perceive a whiff of imminent failure.
Nate Bedecker and Emily Latham, in mutual agreement that life in New York City is no longer attainable, pack away their secrets as well as their belongings in their Jeep Cherokee, stuffed with all the essentials that must suffice until the movers arrive—everything but the honesty that they will need to navigate an unknowable future. More's the pity, then, when their vehicle is stolen outside the office where they retrieve the keys to their new home on a long holiday weekend. Credit cards shredded, banks closed until the following Tuesday, Nate and Emily are stranded with their ten-month-old son, Trevor, and only a little cash between them. Finagling a hotel room on promised credit, the couple is trapped in an expensive suite they can't afford, charging room service meals, any momentary peace periodically shattered by a child who doesn’t cry but only screams his displeasure or discomfort. As each privately indulges in small expenditures to assuage a looming sense of powerlessness, the cash dwindles alarmingly, the fears of future financial instability condensed into a nightmarish weekend.
Lynn’s descriptions of Nate and Emily's social environment in New York City paints a troubling picture of people living beyond their means, driven by status and ambition, an empty facade more concerned with outward appearances than personal happiness. Were it not for their inability to weather the financial demands of the city—Emily describes Nate as "the only pauper on Wall Street" for his mediocre job performance—this couple might have blundered ahead indefinitely instead of confronting the very real issues in a union crying for honesty. Both are remiss, neither truly truthful as the usual problems of coexistence and a new baby drain them of the energy they originally put into the relationship.
Emily has done something outrageous and impulsive, an action with serious ramifications for their future. A dark cloud envelops her as she aborts most attempts to communicate with Nate. But Nate has an even more devastating secret, one that may cast a pall over the small family's future and the shape of their lives together. In heading toward Rhode Island, a scene of family history for Nate, he is drawn back to his rocky relationship with his famous architect father and vague childhood memories, unaware that much will be revealed—and resolved—over the holiday. He only wants to secure his future and that of his family, shedding failure in search of security. But what was unattainable in New York is equally unattainable on this fraught weekend, at least temporarily, both partners thrust unwilling into a new maturity and an appreciation for one another.
Lynn strips every pretension, every excuse away as the couple faces one challenge after another. The usual artifice of their New York behavior is insufficient as they recognize the limitations of their union without total honesty. Their security destroyed, what might have been mediocre characters step into more profound territory: each must trust the other with carefully guarded secrets and fears if they are to survive the future. The detritus of the past shed like unhealthy weight, Nate and Emily begin to understand the meaning of commitment and the power of trust when all else fails.