Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: The Exiles by Allison Lynn

Starting over. Generally, it has a positive connotation. You have the chance to try something new, to conquer something else, to improve upon past successes, to do something you’ve always wanted to do. But sometimes starting over is a defeat, the result of failure and it carries all of the baggage and unhappiness and negativity that defeat and failure would imply. In Allison Lynn’s new novel, The Exiles, her characters are starting over after failing but their fresh start is compounded by the secrets they’ve kept, their separate disappointments, and their dwindling resources.

Nate has traded his Wall Street investment banking career, never much to boast about, for a stable if unglamorous financial job in Newport, Rhode Island. He, girlfriend Emily, a former advertising wiz, and their 10 month old son Trevor leave the rich and ostentatious community in Manhattan into which they never quite fit. As many of their belongings as possible are packed into Nate’s prized Jeep Cherokee and they head to Newport on a long holiday weekend, exhausted and disappointed but ready to take possession of their new house and start over. But while they are closing on the house and receiving the keys from their realtor, the Jeep, loaded with the essentials to keep them going until the moving van arrives, including all of their financial information, is stolen. Now all they have for the long weekend is one empty house, the clothes on their backs, Trevor’s stroller, the diaper bag, and $84.

What they also have are their unspoken concerns and enormous secrets they need to share with each other but which they are finding it hard to acknowledge, knowing that the other will feel the revelation of the secrets to be a violation of honesty, trust, and their relationship. As they separately contemplate the hidden truths that need to come out, they ruminate about their pasts, growing up, their charmed meeting, and their early life together before they were forced to slink away from Manhattan in ignominious defeat.

Nate’s father was a famous architect but Nate’s childhood was one largely bereft of his father’s presence or of paternal love. His younger brother and his mother, both long gone, were his bedrock. What he did internalize of his father’s life lessons was to flaunt his skills, always guard his reputation, and to avoid embarrassment. He’s not certain he’s lived up to these injunctions and fears that the only thing he’s inherited from his long estranged father is the Huntington’s disease that killed his grandfather as he obsessively checks and rechecks his health.

Emily’s childhood was quite different from Nate’s. As the child of a struggling single mother, she has always striven for more rather than less financial security, something she has not found with Nate. Their friends in New York were phenomenally wealthy and Emily always noted the disparity between their life, their possessions, and hers and Nate’s.  Jealousy is not a pretty emotion.  As she struggles with their exile from the City, she must also compare the loss of their Jeep and its contents to the loss of an incredibly expensive painting by a famous author and casually owned by some of the aforementioned affluent New York friends and which is the subject of much speculation and gossip amongst their group, having disappeared after one of the last parties that Emily and Nate attended before they left for Rhode Island.

Lynn has done a wonderful job capturing the tension, unhappiness, and preoccupation between Nate and Emily as they embark on this new chapter in their lives.  The new chapter doesn’t have the smoothest of starts and the whole hardship of it, coupled with the revelation of their secrets could make or break their relationship but it will not leave them unchanged. Told over the short span of the holiday weekend before the banks open again to allow them access to money other than what they find in their wallets and pockets, the emotional line of the novel moves almost imperceptibly from a simmer to a rolling boil. The inclusion of their childhoods allows the reader to understand the effect of their early years on their decision making as adults and helps to explain, if not excuse, some otherwise inexplicable decisions.

As characters, Nate and Emily are fully rounded and quite believable in their weary, downtrodden state. Their acceptance of the Jeep’s loss, aside from a brief panic, highlights the emotional toll their exile from New York has taken on them. Their lives have a claustrophobic feel to them, perhaps because of the ways in which they remain closed off from each other, sunk in their own unshared worries for the future. While they may not be the most sympathetic characters ever, they are fighting for each other, their family, and a contentment that has eluded them thus far and that very fight makes the novel an appealing read. This is a complex and nuanced look at the realities of money, or lack thereof, for even the middle class, dreams for the future (often contingent on money), the strain of keeping up appearances, secrets and their impact on relationships, the ways in which we are so truly shaped by our previous experiences, and the ways we attempt to create a new, worthy life.

For more information about Allison Lynn and the book, check out her website or follow her on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. Although I enjoy visiting New York, it isn't a place I'd ever want to live, so I certainly sympathize with Nate and Emily wanting to leave there. Still, I can't imagine being in their situation ... how tragic.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.

  2. You had much more compassion for this couple than I. I enjoyed reading your perspective, which I found fair and objective, whereas mine just became more and more jaded against what I perceived as their stupidity. I do agree, however, that they made a strong family unit together and that was worth a lot.


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