I’d recently finished Shipstead’s first novel Seating Arrangments, which I found to be a fun enough read, so it was gratifying to see the growth in Shipstead’s writing here—both in the scope of the story as well as her prose.
The plot alternates between two broad timelines and follows multiple characters, and it’s unsurprising to read Shipstead’s note in the acknowledgments that an early manuscript came in over 1,000 pages. The historical timeline chiefly follows Marian Graves and her twin Jamie, who each follow their own particular destinies: Marian to become a pilot, and Jamie an artist. The modern timeline follows Hadley Baxter, an actor playing Marian in a biopic.
At over 500 pages it’s got a lot crammed in, but none of it felt self-indulgent. It evoked—and I mean this in the best possible way—memories of 1980s-era miniseries whose stories had lots of characters and spanned multiple generations. It also reminded me a bit of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and A God in Ruins, which follow siblings during WWII. I didn’t find any of the narrative twists overly surprising, but that didn’t diminish the pleasure of seeing them unfold.