Fergus Goodwyn has been cheated. All he ever wanted was a beautiful home and a family to love him. And he deserves it he's fabulously wealthy, artistically gifted and always throws the best parties in town. That is, if you can trust him, or any of the other characters in Adrienne Miller's ambitious debut novel, The Coast of Akron.

Eccentric, flamboyant and wildly needy, Fergus is thrilled when his childhood best friend, Jenny, and her family agree to come live with him at the grandiose Akron, Ohio, mansion he has constructed for them, aptly named, On Ne Peut Pas Vivre Seul (approximate translation: no one can live alone). But once Fergus' "new family" moves in, relationships quickly fracture, revealing a series of startling secrets. Jenny's husband, the world-famous artist Lowell Howell—who only paints self-portraits—begins a love affair with Fergus. Fergus relates more to the Howells' young daughter, the already neurotic Merit, than either of his adult compatriots. And Jenny, the true artist amongst the chaos, is left to battle with her own insecurities, testing the lengths she will go to protect the ones she loves.

Guiding us from present-day Akron to 1970s London and back, Miller fastidiously weaves several storylines together. And though her style is at times laborious, Miller is able to completely, if subtly, show us the many sides of her intricate, deeply troubled characters. As the literary editor at Esquire, Miller clearly knows good fiction when she sees it, and The Coast of Akron is a markedly highbrow novel. The only problem is that Miller may be too good, as much of her book revolves around artistic, literary and cultural references that could be lost on the average reader (for example, she provides no translation for the French name of the house, which holds great significance).

Though it may not be a conventional feel-good novel or an easy read, The Coast of Akron is a standout debut well worth exploring. Miller's eclectic characters are flawed and deceitful, yet heartbreakingly human, while her writing is brutally honest, often hilarious and endlessly haunting.

 

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