cover image White Elephant

White Elephant

Julie Langsdorf. Ecco, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-285775-0

The “white elephant” of Langsdorf’s lively and entertaining debut refers to the architectural abomination of a house that’s been constructed in Willard Park, a D.C. suburb known for its trees and friendliness. The Millers, who live next door to the White Elephant, find their lives disrupted by the construction of both the house and the swaggering builder behind it, Nick Cox. Allison Miller has to juggle stagnation, in both her creative and sex lives, with a dangerously escalating attraction to Nick, whose very existence antagonizes her husband—especially after Nick accidentally fells a tree that Ted and Allison had planted for their daughter, Jillian. Meanwhile, quiet and socially unassuming preteen Jillian is embarking on an illicit friendship with Nick’s precocious daughter, Lindy. Besides the Millers and the Coxes, there’s also Suzanne and Grant Davenport-Gardner, new to the neighborhood after Grant was fired from his last job at a law firm for smoking weed. As the lives of these Willard Park residents overlap and intersect over a six-month period, affairs are conducted, houses are built and knocked down, and a community is irreversibly changed. As with many ensemble novels, some characters do not get the development they deserve, most notably Nick’s wife, Kaye, a flighty-seeming Southern belle. Nevertheless, this ambitious and intriguing work about the American suburbs is perfect for fans of Ann Patchett or Meg Wolitzer. (Mar.)