Hope: A Novel

  • Review
By – July 7, 2023

Andrew Ridker’s sec­ond nov­el fol­lows a Jew­ish fam­i­ly from Brook­line, Mass­a­chu­setts soon after it is dis­cov­ered that the father of the fam­i­ly, Scott Greenspan, was caught fal­si­fy­ing the results of the clin­i­cal drug tri­al he was run­ning. This bla­tant­ly deceit­ful act frac­tures the fam­i­ly, which was already begin­ning to loosen at the seams. Deb Greenspan, after open­ing up her mar­riage with Scott, begins to fall in love with the woman she’s see­ing. Maya, Deb and Scott’s daugh­ter, is strug­gling to find her foot­ing in her entry lev­el posi­tion at a large pub­lish­ing house, espe­cial­ly after the man she once had an affair with — her teacher in high school — reen­ters her life and asks her to review his self-indul­gent nov­el. And Gideon, Deb and Scott’s son, doubts his own pur­suit of join­ing the med­ical field, hav­ing been dis­il­lu­sioned by his father’s pro­fes­sion­al indis­cre­tions. No longer trust­ing Scott, who has bound the fam­i­ly togeth­er in many ways, each mem­ber of the fam­i­ly seeks solace and mean­ing on their own.

Despite the novel’s title, guilt appears to be the strongest emo­tion­al through­line. Each char­ac­ter finds them­self betray­ing both those they encounter briefly and those they love most. These betray­als, how­ev­er, are often done in the name of the greater good. Char­ac­ters believe they know best while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly doubt­ing their method and fear­ing being caught; and it is this ten­sion that gives Hope a propul­sion not always seen in the fam­i­ly-nov­el genre.

As with his first nov­el, Ridker’s sec­ond book betrays an incred­i­ble sense of humor. He does not sat­i­rize his char­ac­ters, flat­ten­ing them into punch­lines. Rather, his humor soft­ens the char­ac­ters’ rougher edges, allow­ing the read­er to sym­pa­thize with them. Sim­i­lar­ly, because each sec­tion fol­lows a dif­fer­ent mem­ber of the fam­i­ly, each char­ac­ter comes across as ful­ly human — with their faults, doubts, and shame, but also with their warmth, love, and redemp­tion. How­ev­er, because the nov­el is bro­ken up into four dis­tinct sec­tions, it can some­times feel frag­ment­ed. And the humor­ous take on the char­ac­ters can some­times lead them to make choic­es that seem implau­si­ble or unearned.

At its core, Hope is a nov­el that thor­ough­ly explores the many con­tra­dic­tions of upper-mid­dle class Amer­i­can life in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. It will fill the read­er with a sense of dis­il­lu­sion­ment — but they will of course find hope, too.

Ben­jamin Selesnick lives and writes in New Jer­sey. His writ­ing has appeared in decomP, Lunch Tick­et, San­ta Fe Writ­ers’ Project Quar­ter­ly, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He holds an MFA in fic­tion from Rutgers-Newark.

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