Small Hours
Jennifer Kitses
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Buy *Small Hours* by Jennifer Kitsesonline

Small Hours
Jennifer Kitses
Grand Central Publishing
288 pages
June 2017
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Over the course of one day, Kitsesís novel built around a fracturing relationship explores our propensity for self-delusion and the way misbeliefs can damage our lives behind repair. Lies and secrets circle around Tom and Helen, who have recently left the hustle of Manhattan for the Hudson Valleyís suburban Devon. Together with their young daughters, Sophie and Ilona, Tom and Helen hope to lead a more tranquil life. Tom seems perpetually plagued by anxiety while Helen attempts to recover from her late nights and deadlines working as a graphic designer. Their morning begins when Tom decides to give his wife a break by taking his daughters out for an adventure.

Tom and Helen love each other, but at this point neither has any idea how to turn things around in an environment where ďan unexpected bill or a missing paycheck could send them into a tailspin.Ē Tom wasnít all that excited about moving to Devon, but he recognized that Helen was nostalgic for tree-lined streets and quiet roads. Though Helen encouraged Tom to see the suburbís beauty, nothing in Tomís childhood prepared him for a place so ďachingly quiet.Ē Neither Tom or Helen could envision what happened in the months after the 2008 financial crisis, when Tom found himself out of a job and desperate to find another: ďwe had hopes and bad timing. Thatís all.Ē

As Tom and Helen begin their revelatory journey through a minefield of futile dreams, Tom is distracted by the simplest of things, constantly zoning out and slipping away into a landscape where his problems and failures canít reach him: ďFor a few moments he was outside of time, outside of himself.Ē We arenít quite sure why Tom is so unfocussed, apart from the act that heís having hard time dealing with his job as an editor for a Manhattan newspaper. One impulsive encounter with his boss, Donna, adds to Tomís sense of dread; heís penitently weighed down by the many ways he could hurt Helen.

Helen is plagued by anger. As her boss breathes down her neck, pressuring her to finish a new marketing and promotion campaign for his media conglomerate, she recalls a time at Grand Central Station when she was immobilized by a sudden fury. Sheís never said anything to Tom, the simmering incident part of an ever-widening category she that she has kept to herself. Her only solace are her visits to her neighbor, Karl. Over the past couple of years, Karlís studio has become a second home to her, a refuge from the pressures and frustrations of her own desk.

Though a fledgling author, Kitses writes with all of the confidence of the great American literary masters. In provocative and unsettling prose, she delves deep into Tom and Helenís views of themselves and of each other. In the process, she gives us a real odyssey into human frailty, guilt, and self-delusion. Beyond Devonís soft, damp air, where the morning light often turns a deep bottle green, Kitses carefully dissects her case for modern marriage and relationships. No matter how distant one gets from the madding crowd in place or time, finding true fulfillment can be just as bedeviling. The story covers everything from the "truths" we tell ourselves about our lives to our childhood traumas and our inability to find satisfaction in everyday life.

Eventually Helenís anger boils over after an unexpected confrontation with two local teenage girls. Although she never knows the extent of Tomís secret, she deflects the knowledge about her husband in whatever way she can. Tom assures his wife that he will soon show or at least call, though he tries to hide from a wave of dread and his series of accumulated mistakes and failures. He recalls his reaction to the results of Helenís sonogram and an overheard conversation between Donna and her copyeditor. As night falls and Tom stays in Manhattan caught up in self-contained drama, his relationship with Donna shades into something far more complex. Is there any hope of saving his marriage? After discovering the true nature of Tomís betrayal, Helenís dissatisfaction transforms into a yearning for a time when hard work was rewarded and there was at least some value and some tradeoff in focusing on oneís goals and dreams.

Similar in tone and theme to Richard Yatesís Revolutionary Road, albeit from a 21st-century vantage-point, Kitses offers up much more in her view of how deception can fracture a marriage. Yes, the book and its inevitable, tragic revelation show the bleak underbelly of the American Dream, but it also goes much further - exposing the austere landscape of regret for opportunities missed and the necessary accommodations and compromises that most of us are forced to make in life.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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