As the inside cover blurb puts it, this is a novel about “eight friends, one country house, four romances, and six months in isolation.” It’s Boccaccio meets Chekov in the Hudson Valley in 2020, and it’s precise and funny and tragic and I liked it a whole lot. The conceit—which is that a Shteyngart-like writer named Sasha Senderovsky has invited three old friends and a couple of newer friends/work acquaintances to come to the country estate where he’s gone to escape early-pandemic NYC with his psychiatrist wife Masha and their daughter Nat—allows for some city-folks-in-the-country satirical moments, but also for drama and emotion. The old friends are Ed, Vinod, and Karen: Ed is a globetrotting “gentleman” who lives off family money; Karen is newly wealthy from a mega-successful app she created; Vinod is “a former adjunct professor and short-order cook” who lives in Elmhurst. The newer folks are Dee, who is a writer who was in one of Senderovsky’s seminars, and “the Actor,” who is very famous and with whom Senderovsky is trying to collaborate on a TV pilot for some much-needed funds. As the plot progresses, there are shifting romances and past secrets/betrayals revealed, and that 2020 mood is there in full force, how the spring (in the NYC area at least) felt so terrifying and then the summer had moments where it felt “as if this was just any other summer but with blue surgical masks and spent bottles of hand sanitizer littering the side of the road” (and outdoor dining, so much outdoor dining).

I love how the book opens, how we see Masha and Sasha preparing for the arrival of their guests and how we then see the guests arrive, one by one. There are dead tree branches littering the lawn of the property—there’s been a storm recently, and Sasha hasn’t yet managed to find someone who can remove them—and we see each character’s reaction to the branches, Karen looking at them and thinking “All these years and Senderovsky still couldn’t take care of himself,” versus Ed and Vinod not noticing the branches at all, versus Dee wondering if they were “supposed to evoke the devil-may-care attitude of wealthy urban aristocrats who studiously rejected appearances.”

And I love how Shteyngart’s sentences can so perfectly capture the feeling of a certain place and time, like when Dee arrives and is thinking about how at that moment in March 2020 “The virus was just starting to make a dead zone of her section of Brooklyn, leaving nothing but ambulance wails and possibly suicidal trips to the bodega,” or this sentence, from the end of the book, when various characters are back in the city: “The summer heat had just been rescinded and now there were two beams of blue light arced over the downtown sky, that time of year.”

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