cover image Count the Ways

Count the Ways

Joyce Maynard. Morrow, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-239827-7

Maynard (Under the Influence) shows her mastery at pulling the heartstrings in her latest family saga. Doled out in 100 bite-size chapters, the life of a woman named Eleanor unfolds over five decades starting with her solitary childhood in Newton, Mass., where she felt like an intrusion on her narcissistic, often inebriated parents, whose drunken behavior of shouting matches and thrown glasses Eleanor characterizes as trips to “Crazyland.” The author reports on Eleanor’s lonely teen years and fragile emotional state that was exacerbated by her parents’ deaths in a car accident, and later her financial independence after she sells a children’s book series. Other milestones—buying a ramshackle house in New Hampshire, meeting the love of her life, and having three children—give way to the dissolution of her marriage after their four-year-old son almost drowns while being unsupervised. Granted, the many side plots start to feel contrived once they’re added up (a minor character’s death from AIDS, another’s dementia, a #MeToo scenario, and a close friend’s refusal to leave an abusive husband, to name a few), but Maynard does a good job of developing Eleanor, making the perspective she gains over the course of her life feel fully earned. Despite the melodrama, Maynard succeeds at pulling in the reader. (May)