Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: The Tell by Hester Kaplan

The Tell: Owen and Mira are a married couple living in the large house left to Mira by her parents after they were both killed in an accident. A former TV actor, Wilton Deere, moves into their Rhode Island town and purchases the house next door to the couple. Wilton and Mira seem immediately, inexplicably drawn to each other and very quickly Wilton becomes a fixture in Mira and Owen's life - much to Owen's frustration. Unlike his wife, Owen does not see Wilton's appeal and he finds Wilton and Mira's quickly made friendship unsettling. When Mira and Wilton begin spending time together at a casino and Wilton's long estranged daughter returns, Owen watches as both his neighbor and his marriage begin to unravel. Owen and Mira have been married for six years when Wilton arrives in Providence, RI and inserts himself into their lives. Wilton seems to be an unsettled person who is desperate for connection - he eats multiple times per week with the couple, shows up unannounced at the school at which Owen teaches and visits Mira often in the art studio she runs. He is easily flattered by the fact that people recognize him from a sitcom long ago off the air.

It is easy, of course, to insert into Owen and Mira's life - the cracks in their marriage provide the perfect opening. Owen is still coming to terms with a tragedy from his past but is unwilling or unable to be particularly open with Mira about his real feelings about the event. Mira, still living in the large home filled with art she once shared with her parents, seems stunted by the lack of progression in her environment. Nothing in the house is hers or chosen by her - it is all what was important to her parents. Owen's inability to open up about the tragedy and Mira's oppression by her parent's home serve to envelop them both in cocoons. They live together and clearly share passion but move through life with a very interior perspective. That interior perspective inhibits their ability to truly connect with each other. When Owen sees how easily Mira connects with Wilton, he is angry and feels betrayed by his wife.

Wilton is a study all his own - there is a pathology that drives him to seek this connection with the younger Mira. Estranged from his daughter after abandoning her when she was a young child, Wilton has reconnected with Anya and moved to Providence to be close to her since she is studying at med school nearby. As Mira and Wilton's relationship deepens, Owen begins to turn to Anya who shares Owen's distrust of her father. Bit by bit, each player's life unravels and the unraveling is quickened by the involvement of the other players.

My thoughts
The Tell is a very well weaved story of these four adults and how their personal undoing hastens the undoing of the others. Each character is deeply explored and developed.  Because Mira and Owen spend so much time inward, the reader learns a lot about the interiors of their minds - what drives them, how they react to stimuli, what they are hiding.

There is a darkness to this novel - from Mira and Owen's musty house to the secrets each is keeping and the shadows of addiction which can make it challenging to read at times. On the other hand, the psychology of the characters is interesting and how that dictates their interactions with each other is fascinating.

I do want to make one comment about the writing - it is exquisite. Author Antonya Nelson calls Hester Kaplan "a sentence-maker of the highest order" and I couldn't agree more. I often paused to consider sentences and passages and how expertly she had crafted them.  Some examples:

"Owen had the feeling that Wilton had seen the gap open up between Mira and him, measured it, and then manuevered himself in between."

"Maybe it was that particular brand of love that had made Owen feel so suffocated in a place where there was plenty of everything but never enough air. It was the essential problem of two - one would always leave first.  That inevitability had hung over them from the beginning."

I found myself torn as reading this - the characters are well developed and intriguing and the writing is excellent but the darkness of the story diminished the book somewhat for me. You can see what others thought by checking out other stops on the TLC tour:

Tuesday, January 8th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, January 10th: Excellent Library
Tuesday, January 15th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, January 16th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Thursday, January 17th: Books in the City
Monday, January 21st: Between the Covers
Wednesday, January 23rd: Speaking of Books
Monday, January 28th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, January 29th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, January 30th: Bibliophiliac

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the tour.


  1. That does sound dark and creepy, but I'm intrigued by the psychology of it.

  2. This book sounds intriguing, and you chose two beautiful quotes. You have me hooked, I am putting this on my TBR list.

  3. Sounds like a great book with wonderfully explored characters!

  4. Sounds like one I'm going to have to pick up. Great review!

  5. I really enjoyed your review, Colleen. And even though I don't often like dark stories, if the writing is exceptional, then I'm game!

  6. I kind of like dark so this might be a good match for me.

  7. I don't think I've heard an author's writing referred to as "exquisite" in a very long time - I'd read this book for that alone.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  8. Not sure this one is for me, but you make it sound really intriguing!

  9. My first thought as I was reading your review was "Oh dear. This can't end well." But it sounds like it was a smooth and hypnotic read.

  10. Loved it! The character development is fantastic, I was fully engrossed in this wonderful novel. I hope to read more from this author soon.

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