St. Ivo

Joanna Hershon. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-26814-5

Hershon’s somber, murky fifth novel (after The Dual Inheritance) gradually reveals the unhappy secrets between floundering filmmaker Sarah and her adult daughter, Leda. Sarah, who hasn’t made a film for years, has recently, and uncertainly, reunited with her husband, Matthew, after a two-year separation. The novel follows the couple over the course of a weekend spent in upstate New York with their friends and fellow artists Kiki and Arman, who have just had a baby. Hershon slowly drags in clues to the source of Sarah’s suffering, and the circumstances surrounding her and Matthew’s estrangement from Leda, which Sarah tries to work through in a screenplay despite Matthew’s objections. Heading into the weekend, Sarah behaves in increasingly risky ways and gives her name and phone number to a “grandfatherly” Czech man she meets on the subway. Upstate, she tempts danger in a swimsuit-clad encounter with Kiki and Arman’s gruff neighbor in the woods, stimulated by the sense that the man could overpower her after he touches the fringe of her suit. While Leda’s story of heroin addiction and betrayal is rather predictable, Sarah’s opaque emotional backdrop receives welcome bursts of illumination with brief, dialogue-driven cinematic scenes. Hershon explores with moving simplicity the complexities friendships and a marriage that has frayed but not yet died. (Apr.)