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From the bestselling, critically acclaimed author of Man in the Woods and Endless Love, a stunning, stinging portrait of class and creativity-and the double-edged sword of success
Thirteen parties over the course of two decades-an opium infused barbeque, a reception for a doomed presidential candidate, a fund-raiser for a blind child who speaks in tongues, a visit to one of New York’s fabled sex clubs-brilliantly reveal the lives of two couples, one hoping to be admitted to the kingdom of Art, the other hoping for a small share of the American dream, both driven by forces of history they rarely perceive or acknowledge.
Thaddeus Kaufman, the son of booksellers, and Grace Cornell, raised in a basement apartment she longs to escape, meet at a neighborhood art fair in Chicago. Soon after, they head to New York, aloft on the wings of young love. Jennings Stratton, the son of a caretaker, and Muriel Sanchez, the daughter of a cop, meet in a house he is refurbishing in New Mexico, and they, too, head for the big city.
In a vast Hudson River estate, the lives of the two couples ultimately intertwine. Thaddeus has made it big in an unexpected way, setting off a chain reaction of envy among his friends and peers and forever changing the dynamic of his marriage with Grace, for whom success has been elusive, and art, once a source of solace, has become a font of bitterness. And Jennings, hoping to transcend his reputation as the local Casanova, a man suited only for menial tasks, has ventured into a cycle of theft and betrayal that threatens to destroy the fragile life of his family.
Funny and cutting, affecting and expansive, River Under the Road is Scott Spencer’s masterpiece of all that lies beneath our everyday lives-a story about the pursuit of love, art, and money, and the inevitable reckoning that awaits us all.
Spencer (Endless Love) traces the lives of two couples through snapshots of parties throughout their marriages that turn equally painful and profound. Aspiring artists Grace and Thaddeus a writer and painter, respectively move to New York City from Chicago after meeting at an underground art fair, and eventually settle into a sprawling property where they meet the caretaker's son, Jennings, and his wife Muriel. As Thaddeus finds the easy road to success and Grace languishes in anonymity, they watch themselves transform into people they never imagined they could become. Over in the caretaker's house, Jennings grapples with a secret that could either launch him into the life he's longed for or drag his whole family down with no hope of escape. Spencer artfully renders the characters' ennui as the party settings urge them to act on their buried instincts at the very moments when it could cost them the most. He also utilizes the party invitations that open each chapter as clever hints of the kinds of conflict that could be coming. But the novel only at times becomes more than the fun conceit, and at the end it feels as if Spencer forgot to make his point. Characters who never grow past their senses of entitlement can be a fascination to observe, but when the narrative shares their inaction the reading experience feels passive. At times a quiet meditation on existential decay and the empty promises of success, Spencer's novel ultimately loses sight of itself. \n