The Invaders

2 of 19
The Invaders
240 pages; Regan Arts
In the exclusive seaside town of Little Neck Cove, you're setting yourself up for trouble if you stop to think about whether you're really happy. Residents avoid discussing the big things, but "a tree with a bit of lean" can spawn endless chatter. Karolina Waclawiak's fiercely witty second novel, The Invaders, chronicles what happens when one woman risks looking beyond the manicured lawns and cozy cottages to consider what her life has become.

When we first meet Cheryl, she is an attractive, aging second wife, exhausted by her efforts to fit in with the country club set and preoccupied because she hasn't had sex with her spouse in 225 days. Her insecurities as an outsider make her extra attuned to others' self-doubts, as when she stands backstage at the local fashion show observing women comparing themselves unfavorably to their size 0 daughters while their roving-eyed husbands play golf.

Cheryl also feels more like a bystander than a parent to her grown stepson. Teddy, who has just been kicked out of college. Teddy, a cynic who's both hilarious and blinded by privilege, has boomeranged home, where he steals pills from bathroom cabinets and trolls for women. But when Cheryl's marriage unravels and Teddy suffers a devastating accident, the two form a bond—a pair of broken people in a place where "no one wants to be sad in the summer."

Waclawiak's searing vision is sometimes surreal: Teddy hides inside the plastic bubble of a children's slide in the backyard of the woman he hopes to seduce, and "little girls all dressed in white chase one another in circles" like ghosts. With deft humor and insight, Waclawiak reveals her characters' long-hidden vulnerabilities. The Invaders asks us to contemplate what happens to people's hearts when their lives are lived on the surface. What happens to love? Cheryl asks. "How could it have just floated away?"
— René Steinke