cover image Off Course

Off Course

Michelle Huneven. FSG/Sarah Crichton, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-22447-9

For readers unfamiliar with Huneven’s previous novels, such as Blame, Cressida Hartley may seem at first like a romance heroine. When Cress moves temporarily into her family’s cabin in the Sierras in the early 1980s, ostensibly to finish her economics dissertation, Jakey—the stereotypical burly backwoodsman—immediately poses a distraction. But their tryst doesn’t lead to a happily ever after: it proves to be only a prologue to the main story. After Jakey loses interest in her, Cress finds a less likely romantic partner in Quinn, a somber carpenter grappling with his father’s suicide who has been married for 19 years. With unflinching emotional honesty, Huneven chronicles their passionate four-year affair, during which time Cress’s family and friends urge her to leave the mountain and begin her career. Instead, she allows her personality to be subsumed into Quinn’s. The tension between the two is slowly pulled taut, until it finally snaps: Cress runs up against Quinn’s sense of familial duty. Underlying the plot is an uncomfortable assumption that happiness is determined by relationships—Cress’s accomplishments are so briefly noted (her Ph.D., a high-powered job), that they seem to be an afterthought. But while Huneven’s latest will likely disappoint romantics, Cress makes for an eerily relatable and heartbreaking protagonist. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (Apr.)