cover image A Dream Life

A Dream Life

Claire Messud. Tablo Tales, $19.95 (136p) ISBN 978-1-64969-729-5

Messud (The Burning Girl) offers an intriguing if slight domestic drama. When Alice Armstrong’s husband, Teddy, gets a job in Sydney, Australia, she moves there with him and their two young children, Sadie and Martha, from New York City. Their imposing new house, dubbed Chateau Deeds after its owners, offers Alice “a hiatus from reality,” but it also requires tremendous upkeep, which proves too much. The first two housekeepers Alice hires don’t work out, leading a friend to recommend getting live-in help. The choices presented by her applicants leave her feeling “assailed by the arbitrariness, the strange irrelevance, of her Australian existence.” Alice hires Simone Funk, a choice that may be foolhardy—Simone tells wild, possibly tall tales about being a runway model as a teen. Simone also has an outburst that may be a red flag (“Stuck-up cow. She doesn’t know the first thing about me,” Simone says of a house guest). There is some chilliness between Alice and Simone, and things come to a head after it’s revealed that Simone has Alice’s daughters massage her. Messud keeps readers on tenterhooks waiting for a shoe to drop, and when it does, everything recalibrates. The story may be slim, but the writing is crisp—“Guilt swept across their features like a veil”—and so is Messud’s attention to detail. This is worth savoring. Agent: Sarah Chalfton, the Wylie Agency. (Jan.)