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The Loved Ones
320 pages; Atlantic Monthly Press
Jean Devlin, the matriarch of Mary-Beth Hughes's latest novel, set in the late '60s, is beautiful, sharp-witted and seemingly indifferent to her husband Nick's philandering. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter, the spirited Lily, struggles to determine what kind of woman she's supposed to become ("If she was going to plant tulip bulbs and serve crab-dip, she needed to shape up..."). Often absent from the domestic scene, Nick spends his days as a rising titan in the cosmetics industry. This portrait of a New England family, hiding its despair over the death of Lily's younger brother (and yet fighting to hold it together) is masterful; Hughes glides in and out of her characters' heads, sometimes within the span of a paragraph. But the larger issues she explores, about the emotional cost of striving for glamour and beauty, make for the same kind of stylized, nostalgic pleasures as an episode of Mad Men. Sexy, immersive and lushly written. Read with a sundress on—and a pair of Wayfarers.
— Julie Buntin