cover image Under the Influence

Under the Influence

Joyce Maynard. Morrow, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-225764-2

In this, her ninth novel, Maynard depicts one woman’s moral dilemma. Helen’s first-person narrative details her adult life and how it spiraled out of control after the divorce from her ex-husband Dwight. Helen was devastated after a drinking bout and a DWI led to the loss of custody of her son, Ollie. While working at an art gallery and barely getting by in San Francisco, Helen meets Ava and Swift Havilland, wealthy philanthropists who take her under their wing as Ava agrees to pay Helen to take pictures of her art collection. Ava and Swift also treat Helen to dinners and give her a glimpse of their everyday privileged existence. And when Helen is at her lowest point with her son, who seems uninterested in spending time with her, Swift treats Ollie like a son, teaching him how to swim. Yet what begins as a seemingly altruistic friendship on the part of the Havillands turns into a quid pro quo when a disastrous accident involves Ollie and Helen, forcing them to tell the police the Havillands’ versions of events or else become victims of their vicious threats. Maynard’s (Labor Day) latest is illuminating and mesmerizing, highlighting not only differing definitions of friendship, but the shades of gray between right and wrong and the lengths to which some will go to protect their self-interest. (Feb.)