cover image Willa & Hesper

Willa & Hesper

Amy Feltman. Grand Central, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5387-1254-2

In this thoughtful and fascinating debut from Feltman, two students in Columbia’s MFA program in 2016 spiral into a romance—and just as quickly spiral out. When Hesper strikes up a conversation with Willa in a diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, their attraction is undeniable; Hesper is enchanting and adventurous, and Willa is endearingly attentive. The two begin to tentatively navigate the unfamiliar territory of dating women (the first such experience for both of them), narrating alternating chapters. But Willa’s intensity soon gets under Hesper’s skin; she seems to love Hesper too much, and Hesper can’t shake the certainty she will push Willa away. Both reeling from a break-up conversation that the reader never fully sees, Willa and Hesper fly from their pain: Hesper travels to Tbilisi, Georgia, on a quest to learn about her grandfather’s past; Willa’s roommate signs her up for an “Inspiring Jewish Survivor Trip!” to Germany and, to her own surprise, Willa goes. Feltman slices directly to the core of heartbreak’s ugliest moments: the temptation to fall back into patterns, to keep running from intimacy and risks. She evocatively captures the tension between aching to move on and not give up, and how the shattering of one relationship fractures others. Feltman stays away from happy ending conventions and skillfully weaves glimmers of hope and healing throughout, making for a keenly perceptive novel. (Feb.)