Because I may submit this review to Amazon, who is once again refusing to publish some of my reviews for reasons I don’t seem to be privy to, I’m going to say here: I loved this book and encourage you to read it if you enjoy cerebral, eccentric characters who are layered but sometimes (or frequently) unpleasant and don’t always do the right thing (or go out of their way to do the wrong one).
Jean Hanff Korelitz
May 31, 2022
Blurb: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Latecomer is a layered and immersive literary novel about three siblings, desperate to escape one another, and the upending of their family by the late arrival of a fourth.
The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?
A complex novel that builds slowly and deliberately, The Latecomer touches on the topics of grief and guilt, generational trauma, privilege and race, traditions and religion, and family dynamics. It is a profound and witty family story from an accomplished author, known for the depth of her character studies, expertly woven storylines, and plot twists.
As I begin writing this review, the almost long lost memory of me about to toss The Latecomer to the side surfaces, desperately needing me to tell you that if after nearly a third of the way (or less, possibly less) you are bored by Salo, who has become almost catatonic by several abstract art pieces, and Joanna, whose obsession with having children dominates her entire being, hang on because Jean Hanff Korelitz’ The Latecomer becomes so much more.
Joanna’s obsession ultimately produces triplets, Harrison, Sally, and Lewyn, whose reaction and relationship to each other epitomizes being produced in a petri dish (or a Peach Tree Dish). They are coldly clinical with each other, “recoiling” from physical or emotional contact with each other and sometimes with humanity on the whole. Although, it must be said, Lewyn is far the most receptive, but even he has difficulty with human relationships.
The nearby Brooklyn school they attend, called Walden–probably because it imbues pastoral idealism–seems to teach all manner of things, except the ones that might be necessary for later academia. Harrison determines early that he’s smarter than his siblings, classmates, and teachers at this school. Sally and Lewyn are more easy-going about their school achievements on the whole. Walden is the type of establishment that gives medals for participating so that everyone feels equal.
Later, Sally and Lewyn both end up at their father’s alma mater, Cornell, while Harrison attends a two year college, not to be mistaken for a junior college, in which thought, learning, and manual labor are expected and encouraged. There he meets a young man, Eli Absalom Stone whose earlier book, Harrison has already devoured. Harrison knows that Eli is already an intellectual giant and he wants nothing more than to be befriended by him.
From here there are love interests, familial upheaval, and an amazing beach scene that changes everything and paves the way for the final section of the novel devoted to Phoebe, the so-called latecomer who is the fated fourth egg, stored away until her birth sixteen years after her siblings. Somehow Phoebe embodies the best of all of them and is the most obviously likable, not that that matters because this really is a novel built upon interesting and rich characters.
After that China-boat-slow beginning, The Latecomer became a novel I didn’t want to put down. The plots twists, the layered characters, the writing, all of these were like the richest, most palate-worthy wine you could imagine and savor. I was fascinated by the excursions these characters took mentally, and sometimes physically, their paths to becoming self-aware or simply functioning.
I was also very appreciative that Jean Hanff Korelitz treated these characters to a good ending, and the reader too, for that matter. That made me happy.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.