The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton

Reviewed by Anne-Sophie Olsen

(Knopf)

Brooklyn Heights housewife Marion Palm has fled her family with an embezzled $180,000, and this time she intends to be gone for good. In her wake, she leaves a husband (Nathan) and two daughters (Ginny and Jane) who begin to reconfigure their lives around her absence. Nathan helplessly seeks refuge in single-dad parenting, Ginny revels dangerously in the new-found freedom of being stuck with the less capable parent, and Jane becomes quietly obsessed with an unknown missing boy. Marion meanwhile finds out that disappearing with $180,000 is more romantic in thought than in execution, and that the knack for embezzling she thought was her strength might turn out to be her weakness. Ultimately, Culliton’s novel is a celebration of agency, a clarion call for living life entirely on one’s own terms and reveling in one’s own (even destructive) impulses. Though the writing is occasionally clunky and the characters feel forced in personality toward the beginning, there is an underlying smoothness and cleverness in storytelling that makes the novel compelling in narrative, if unsympathetic in characterization and distasteful in outcome.

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