cover image Sedating Elaine

Sedating Elaine

Dawn Winter. Knopf, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-32054-9

Winter’s sharp debut blends humor and emotional reflections with an exploration of trauma, substance abuse, and dysfunctional relationships. Frances, a kitchen worker at a London café, determines to break up with her girlfriend, the cheerful and sexually insatiable Elaine. Quiet and standoffish, Frances uses sex, drugs, and alcohol to numb the pain of being left by her ex Adrienne. After a debt to her weed dealer Dom reaches £2,000, Dom threatens to have her roughed up. She reverses her plans with Elaine and asks her to move in with her, planning to use Elaine’s rent money to settle the balance. But when Elaine’s subsequent jubilation becomes too suffocating to bear, Frances opts to drug her girlfriend with a sedative procured from Dom, just until the debt is paid and Frances can end their relationship. The outrageous plan soon goes awry, prompting a reckoning that forces Frances to consider her past relationships—with Adrienne, with her late father, and with the estranged mother who abandoned her—in a new light. Written in moving and candid prose, this takes an unflinching look at what troubled people are capable of, and what they might need to be healed. The result is amusing and touching in equal parts. Agent: Susan Ginsburg, Writers House. (Apr.)