cover image The Paper Palace

The Paper Palace

Miranda Cowley Heller. Riverhead, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-32982-5

In Heller’s captivating debut, a woman’s visit to her family’s summer home on Cape Cod forces her to make a momentous decision. Elle Bishop, 50, and her family are back at the “Paper Palace,” nicknamed for the cheap pressed paperboard their grandfather used in constructing the house. Elle continues to go there each summer despite painful memories, beginning after her parents split when she was 10 and her mother started bringing along a new boyfriend and his children, including his menacing 11-year-old son, Conrad. As the novel opens, Elle’s finally consummated her feelings for Jonas, a friend from the Cape whom she’s loved since she was a girl. Over the next 24 hours she must make the decision to stay with her husband, Peter, or finally be with Jonas. Woven throughout are flashbacks from Elle’s childhood, including a horrific series of events over the summer of 1983 when Elle was 13, involving Conrad, Elle, and Jonas, as well as other family traumas that have reverberated through generations. When the details are revealed later on, they put the somber mood of the first half in a new light. While the story takes a while to get going, Heller’s prose is full of lush atmospheric details. This will keep the reader guessing all the way to the end. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (July)