The Curiosities by Susan Gloss
William Morrow, 2019, 368 pages
With thanks to William Morrow for the final copy.
After the loss of her newborn, Nell can only think of how to fill the void. Despite treatment after treatment, Nell and her husband Josh are seemingly unable to get pregnant. And while Josh appears to have moved on, Nell cannot let her grief go. Meanwhile, the bills from fertility treatment have added up and Nell has kept just how much money has been spent on treatment from Josh. Now, she has an opportunity to work as the director of a new artists colony in an attempt to chip away at the bills, but it might be more of a challenge than she’s up to. There’s the hippie-photographer who might be dealing out of the basement Annie, the even-keeled sculptor Odin who gives Nell a case of the butterflies, and Paige, a printer who isn’t ready to settle. As Nell navigates her new position and the people in her life, she must first get out of her own way.
While characters who are diverse in thought and age inhabit The Curiosities, their execution leaves something to be desired. Each character seems to be driven primarily by a personal tragedy, leaving no room for other traits or meaningful history. While certainly things like child loss and partner loss are hugely impactful events, their effect cannot entirely encompass a person. Gloss’s characters are, as a result, rather flat and lacking the roundedness and complexity of real people or believable and compelling characters.
Although the characters may not be entirely convincing, the plot of The Curiosities is reasonably so. The initial setup of Nell hiding crucial financial information from her husband is perhaps a bit far-fetched, but not entirely implausible. From there, Nell does conveniently get the first job for which she applies — and is evidently fairly unqualified for — but the subsequent events, involving the building of the artists colony and a death in the house that causes upheaval for all of the residents feel fairly natural and realistic.
Gloss struggles some with showing over telling, favoring a prose style that is rather unspecific. Rather than extend information into scenes that conveys the goings-on at the colony, Gloss indicates passing time with vague indications of the activities of the artists and leaves more detailed scenes for looks into the characters’ pasts, including the deceased benefactress. Overall, this makes the plot pass quickly and, to some extent, without notice. Additionally, the prose does its job and just that — there are few turns of phrase to savor and enjoy, few impressive descriptions. Readers who seek a more driving plot will latch onto the death and be lost in the details of seemingly more extraneous scenes that develop character, but do little to push events forward. Meanwhile, readers who prefer novels that are heavily character-driven will enjoy The Curiosities if they can get past the singular dimensions of the characters.
The Curiosities is a moderately quick and enjoyable read. Fans of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows will find some shared elements to enjoy, though the work is not quite as adept. It’s a novel that is easily categorized as women’s fiction — though that’s generally not something I believe in — and will no doubt find many book clubs to enjoy it.
❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤