THE PERFECT AGE
Perpetually sunny Las Vegas is the setting for three summers of tangled love affairs in this sultry, reflective debut novel. Helen Larkin is 15 the summer she starts working as a lifeguard at the Dunes Hotel pool, brooding over her drummer boyfriend, Leo, and wondering whether her mother, Kathy, could possibly be having an affair with Helen's boss, the "over-forty walnut-colored" head lifeguard, Gerard. The question of betrayal is constantly on her mind, whether she is cheating on Leo with another lifeguard or spying on her mother eating chocolate chip ice cream in Gerard's kitchen. On a rebellious illicit date, she wonders, "If no one is hurt, is it actually wrong? Helen knows, somewhere inside her water-cooled limbs, that it is, but she floats on the other possibility for a while." Among those who might be hurt are Edward, Helen's buttoned-up father, a professor of Russian history, and Leo, who worries that he can't offer cosseted, beautiful Helen enough. Skyler takes the time and space to capture the natural emotional arc of relationships, adding nuance with some lovely descriptive writing ("Past this they dip into neighborhoods scarred by yellow lawns, each one leading to a house so cheap and thin it would never withstand a winter in Ohio"). The novel's conclusion is perhaps too neatly engineered, but Skyler perfectly captures the languid heat of long Las Vegas summers and the irresistible temptations of love at any age. Agent, Elizabeth Sheinkman. (May)
Forecast: The novel's strong local flavor, well-judged early summer release and dreamy jacket will help it compete with similar tales of mother-daughter strife.
Release date: 05/01/2004