From Center for Fiction First Novel Prize finalist Bethany Ball comes a biting and darkly funny new novel that follows a set of privileged, jaded Connecticut suburbanites whose cozy, seemingly picture-perfect, lives begin to unravel amid shocking turns of fate and revelations of long-held secrets.
Welcome to small-town Connecticut, a place whose inhabitants seem to have it all — the status, the homes, the money, and the ennui. There’s Tripp and Virginia, beloved hosts whom the community idolizes, whose basement hides among other things a secret stash of guns and a drastic plan to survive the end times. There’s Gunter and Rachel, recent transplants who left New York City to raise their children, only to feel both imprisoned by the banality of suburbia. And Richard and Margot, community veterans whose extramarital affairs and battles with mental health are disguised by their enviably polished veneers and perfect children. At the center of it all is the Petra School, the most coveted of all the private schools in the state, a supposed utopia of mindfulness and creativity, with a history as murky and suspect as our character’s inner worlds.
With deep wit and delicious incisiveness, in The Pessimists, Bethany Ball peels back the veneer of upper-class white suburbia to expose the destructive consequences of unchecked privilege and moral apathy in a world that is rapidly evolving without them. This is a superbly drawn portrait of a community, and its couples, torn apart by unmet desires, duplicity, hypocrisy, and dangerous levels of discontent.
An expensive private school in an affluent Connecticut suburb becomes the focal point for three families in Ball's appealing if predictable sophomore effort (after What to Do About the Solomons). City expats Gunter and Rachel meet fellow Petra School parents Tripp and Virginia at a New Year's Eve party thrown at their house, where doomsday prepper Tripp stockpiles guns in the basement. Tripp's best friend, Richard, is there with his wife, Margot, but he's pursuing Virginia, a novelist with no shortage of fawning male fans who appreciate her looks as much as her work. There's also a trickster principal named Agnes, a secret cancer, an accidental near-murder, and an extramarital affair almost happens, and while the threads occasionally captivate, no single plot line prevails, and the many asides fizzle out with almost no consequence. Unfortunately, the narrative's emotional flatness (as well as that of the characters) makes this feel somewhat schematic, and the plot is too intricate for its own good. Despite some moments of charm, this feels like it's missing a sense of purpose.