cover image Normal Women

Normal Women

Ainslie Hogarth. Vintage, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-46704-6

Hogarth (Motherthing) explores the nature of “women’s work” in this snarky mystery. Danielle Silver despairs when she moves with her husband, Clark, and their baby, Lotte, back to her hometown of Metcalf for Clark’s job. The citizens of Metcalf expected big things from Dani by the end of high school, but now everyone will learn she’s just a stay-at-home mom with a philosophy degree and no marketable skills. After Clark’s coworker dies unexpectedly, Dani spirals, suddenly aware she couldn’t provide for Lotte alone if anything happened to Clark. Then she discovers the Temple, a donations-only, yoga-focused “religious organization” that aims to teach men empathy and vulnerability through “strategic sexual therapies”—that is, sex work. Dani is eager to prove her value and secure Lotte’s future by becoming a Temple “healer,” but then its proprietor, Renata, disappears. The police dismiss Dani’s concerns that Renata met with foul play, so she launches her own investigation. Hogarth squanders a clever premise with skeletal plotting that glibly addresses the trivialization of female labor and raises issues of gentrification, capitalism, and sexual commodification without sufficiently diving into any of them. Paper-thin characters coupled with a slow start and an abrupt denouement further diminish the book’s impact. Hogarth’s fans will be disappointed. Agent: Rach Crawford, Wolf Literary. (Oct.)