cover image The Pessimists

The Pessimists

Bethany Ball. Grove, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5888-8

An expensive private school in an affluent Connecticut suburb becomes the focal point for three families in Ball’s appealing if predictable sophomore effort (after What to Do About the Solomons). City expats Gunter and Rachel meet fellow Petra School parents Tripp and Virginia at a New Year’s Eve party thrown at their house, where doomsday prepper Tripp stockpiles guns in the basement. Tripp’s best friend, Richard, is there with his wife, Margot, but he’s pursuing Virginia, a novelist with no shortage of fawning male fans who appreciate her looks as much as her work. There’s also a trickster principal named Agnes, a secret cancer, an accidental near-murder, and an extramarital affair almost happens, and while the threads occasionally captivate, no single plot line prevails, and the many asides fizzle out with almost no consequence. Unfortunately, the narrative’s emotional flatness (as well as that of the characters) makes this feel somewhat schematic, and the plot is too intricate for its own good. Despite some moments of charm, this feels like it’s missing a sense of purpose. Agent: Duvall Osteen, Aragi, Inc. (Oct.)