Mona Simpson explores the secret lives of parents

Posted Sunday, Apr. 13, 2014  comments  Print Reprints


by Mona Simpson

Knopf, $25.95

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What did you think about your parents’ marriage when you were growing up? If you’re like most, you probably tried not to think about it, especially when you were young. The world revolved around you, not them. Besides the everyday stuff, all the other stuff, their secrets, was too weird to think about.

So, try to put yourself in the mind of a teenage boy. Maybe you were one. Maybe you’re like me, raising one. Now imagine riding that train of thought as it lumbers along twisting and turning, then barreling down the track and derailing. That’s the trip Mona Simpson takes us on in her new novel, Casebook.

Meet Miles, a teen living in sunny Santa Monica, Calif., enjoying school, sleepovers and hanging out. His biggest worries are trying to persuade his mathematician mom, the Mims, to let him watch Survivor, eat junk food and get a Game Boy.

He’s got it pretty good. At least that’s what his friends think. But Miles is a snoop. He questions everything. He’s suspicious of everyone. He eavesdrops. He keeps secrets from his parents, even from his best friend, Hector.

When his parents separate and his dad moves out, Miles is left with the Mims and his younger twin sisters. The Boops, as he calls them, are too young to really understand what’s going on with their parents. But Miles, he’s aware of everything. He’s searching for answers to all the questions he’s afraid to ask.

After the divorce, Dad has lots of girlfriends. But it isn’t until the Mims starts dating Eli, the dorky guy she used to run with, that Miles’ mind really starts racing. Eli is also divorced, a vegetarian, an animal lover and he lives in Washington, D.C. At first Miles thinks, “OK, so she’s dating. She’ll have someone to talk to when we’re not here, and she seems looser, happier.”

But the longer the Mims and Eli are together, the more Miles see questionable changes in his mom, stirring up the snoop in him again. Along with Hector and a low-rent private investigator, Miles sets out to find out if Eli is the real deal. Can the Mims trust Eli? Can Miles?

Casebook puts Miles and the reader in that place maybe we didn’t want to be, smack dab in the middle of our parents’ secret lives. He has to decide how much he really wants to know, and at what cost. The kid in all of us will root for him. He wants to protect his family and get his life back.

Can he do it? It is worth it to read and find out.

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