cover image The Isle of Youth

The Isle of Youth

Laura Van Den Berg. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $14 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-374-17723-2

If ever there was a writer going places, it’s Laura Van Den Berg, who follows up her debut collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, with the ambitious, modular The Isle of Youth, whose seven stories are arranged along the themes of family secrets with noirish intrigue. “I Looked for You, I Called Your Name” concerns a couple’s disastrous vacation in South America, where signs and portents stand in for the growing distance between them. These auguries are more literalized in “Acrobat,” where another wife, jilted in Paris, takes up with the titular troupe of performers. The private detective sisters of “Opa-Locka” embroil themselves in other people’s business, only to be dragged back into their father’s criminal past. Meanwhile, the sisters in the book’s title story switch identities and get the full Chandler treatment, trailed by sinister town cars and mystery men. And there’s always the missing family member that can’t be completely grasped. In “The Greatest Escape,” it’s a young girl’s magician father, protected by her mother’s lies; in “Antarctica,” it’s an estranged brother, incinerated in an accident on the Antarctic Peninsula, leaving his sister alone in the frozen wastes with the secret that could have saved him. The Isle of Youth can seem a similarly immutable landscape, but Van Den Berg’s repetitions never annoy; they enchant. (Nov. 5)