Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Small Town Talk

One Two Three

A novel by Laurie Frankel
Henry Holt & Company, 2021

This was a most welcome break from the formulaic detective/thrillers I’ve been reading as of late.

The Mitchell triplets: Mab, Monday, and Mirabel, are teen-aged triplets who live in the small town of Bourne, location not specified. Just before they were born a chemical plant (that had been polluting the town’s air and water) had shut down and the company that owned it left the town to wither and die, wallowing in the poisons that it had created. Nora, the girls’ mother, had started a class-action suit against the company which had gone nowhere in the past sixteen years. Nora is also a therapist of sorts, and a part-time barkeeper, and a baker (which are forms of therapy as well.) Everyone else in the town seems resigned to their fate, and the town has grown more and more insular—no one moves in or out—unless it is via death due to health issues caused by the pollution.

The novel is constructed from the parallel narratives of the triplets: chapters from “One” (Mab), “Two” (Monday), and “Three” (Mirabel) alternate, giving the reader a diverse and overlapping look at the story. The three girls have distinctly different “voices” that reflect their personalities, a trick which Frankel uses to great effect and sometimes quite humorously. The girls overhear people talk and compare notes later, this three-as-one property gives them an advantage in dealing with the townsfolk and the problems they share. The secondary characters are vividly drawn and give a human dimension to the proceedings, counteracting what occasionally becomes a polemic by Frankel on the evils of unfettered capitalism. The plot is kick-started by the arrival of The Templetons, a family whose patriarch owns the plant and returns to start it up again, claiming he will fix the problems it created the first time. The whole town is energized by this development; the prospect of a return to prosperity is counter-weighted by the awful legacy of the chemical plant and distrust of Templeton’s integrity. This book has a ton of plot which needs to be dealt with causing the writing to be creaky at times. It does have is a bang-up finish, however, although it is not realistic and somewhat unsatisfying if you look too closely.

Qualified recommendation: great structure and characters,  awkward writing at times.

By Professor Batty


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