“Loves me, loves me not” seems to this reviewer a more appropriate title for this newest novel by Mary-Beth Hughes. The Loved Ones implies that some, if not several, of its characters are loved. Maybe the title is ironic. The story takes place in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, a time of free love, great music, drug experimentation, odd fashion, and political action.
An American family--father Nick, mother Jean, and their troubled young teenage daughter, Lily--move from their home in New Jersey to London for a year when
Nick takes on an impressive position with a cosmetics firm. Little is made of the cosmetics industry except for showing the industry’s innate shallowness. Much is made of Jean’s and other women’s beauty.
Nick’s brother, Lionel, a sinister character, has recommended Nick to this post. Reflects Nick, “ …Lionel was a soulless prick who’d used him and now wanted to line him up for a second round.” Lionel, with a very young wife and new baby, often meets guests at his house dressed in a black kimono which he often lets fall open shortly after they arrive.
Flashback: After the untimely death of Nick and Jean’s young son, Cubbie, the family dynamics change drastically; no one is happy or even content. Instead, throughout the novel, the reader learns of betrayal, drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity, and corporate shenanigans. Morals are low. The move to London is hoped by all the family to improve the present and hopefully the future.
The novel follows the disintegration, despite attempts to keep things together, of what would appear to be a happy, middle-class nuclear family. However, some of the characters’ motivations for this major unraveling are unclear--except of course, for the death of the child. We do not see into many hearts, except possibly into Lily’s as she struggles to become a young woman. The other characters are primarily drawn as spontaneous, narcissistic actors doing whatever it takes on whatever day it is to feel better in their own skins.
This novel is a clever, ambitious, well-paced, and ultimately dark book about a certain social class at a certain time. It would be best read in the daylight, in the summer, when a person is feeling happy and secure that he
or she is loved.