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It All Comes Down to This

Review

It All Comes Down to This

Therese Anne Fowler, the bestselling author of A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, returns with IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS, a big-hearted novel about the secrets that bind --- and push apart --- the three adult daughters of Marti Geller, a woman with secrets of her own.

When we meet Marti, she is dying of stage 4 lung cancer, one of the unlucky nonsmokers who develop the disease anyway. Already widowed by her beloved husband, Marti has lived a good life and is not afraid to die, but she is afraid of what her death will mean for her adult daughters, who have never been quite as close as she might have hoped. All Manhattan born and bred and raised with Jewish faith; the quiet, loving support of their father, Leo; and promises of summers at their camp (that’s “cottage” to those of you reading from outside of New England) in Maine, the girls are equally driven, ambitious and proud, but that’s where their similarities end.

"Contrary to Fowler’s previous books, IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS is a true slow-burn family drama. Though the action is limited, she keeps the plot moving by employing her keen eye for relationship dynamics in marriage, sisterhood and found family."

Beck, the eldest daughter at 44, is a contentedly married freelance journalist who longs to write a book of her own, one that even her acclaimed editor husband, Paul, will be proud to share with his industry. They have a tight-knit, deeply satisfying companionship and are beyond proud of their children and new granddaughter, but their marriage has never been particularly fulfilling sexually. After many years of wondering where the spark went --- if it was ever there to begin with --- Beck believes she has stumbled upon the answer: her smart, emotionally intelligent and stylish husband must be gay. While this assumption has changed nothing about her love for him, it does open the door for greater possibilities in their marriage, and in her own sex life.

Claire, the middle child, is recently divorced from her husband, Chad. Although she is an accomplished and highly regarded pediatric cardiologist --- every parent’s dream! --- she thinks that her boring life can’t hold a candle to those of her sisters’. Her achievements, while hard-won and impressive, are not written up in magazines and journals like theirs are, and now that her marriage has unraveled, she doesn’t even have a stable relationship to brag about. What she does have, though, is a terrible secret: for years she has been hopelessly, desperately in love with a completely unattainable man.

Finally, there is Instagram-famous 36-year-old Sophie, the youngest and most beautiful of the Geller girls. Sophie is always about to hop on a flight, have drinks with an artist, or post a carefully captioned and hashtagged photo of her designer jewelry. But while her career pays in freebies and connections, it seriously underpays in cash. Tens of thousands of dollars in debt and essentially homeless, Sophie fears that her existence is about to come tumbling down at any moment.

The death of their mother is a shock to the girls, who knew about Marti’s diagnosis but not the shortened timeline she received at her last oncology appointment. But the biggest stunner is yet to come: Marti has stated in her will that the girls are to sell the Maine camp and split the proceeds evenly. For debt-ridden Sophie and newly single Claire, this is a windfall; for Beck, who always dreamed of using the camp to unlock her writerly potential, it's a blow.

Lucky for them, a man named C.J. Reynolds has stumbled upon their camp while touring a nearby home with his real estate agent. Unbeknownst to them, he is recently released from prison as a result of his own family dysfunction, and their camp is everything he is looking for: quiet, tree-covered, and removed from all connections to his famous family name and the gossip that follows it. But when the girls put their mother to rest, they discover her greatest secret of all, one that totally upends their family history and everything they thought they knew about her. With the enigmatic Southern gentleman ready to buy their camp and force them to move on, they must reckon with harsh truths, deep-seated betrayals, and their own abilities to empower and champion one another for the first time in their lives as sisters.

Contrary to Fowler’s previous books, IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS is a true slow-burn family drama. Though the action is limited, she keeps the plot moving by employing her keen eye for relationship dynamics in marriage, sisterhood and found family. There’s no doubt that the characters are beautifully rendered and smartly written, but the true tension comes from the dramatic irony she uses to tie each of their plotlines together. While every member of the Geller family --- and even some of the supporting characters --- has their own secrets, the reader is privy to all of them and can see when another character is coming too close to (or entirely missing) the truth. Although the action can be quite slow, it is this clever construction that makes the book subversive and smart in its approach to bigger themes like classism, feminism and sexuality. Each Geller woman handles these issues in different ways that set them apart while continuing to fill in the family lore and metaphorical photo album.

That said, I found the characters difficult to distinguish at first, and it took me a good 100 pages to feel that I had their backgrounds down and could better identify with their roles in the story. While the origins of Marti’s secret kept the pace going for a while, the plot eventually slowed a bit too much for my liking, though the ending was unsurprisingly satisfying and heart-stirring.

While it possesses all of the traits that readers have come to expect from Fowler’s work --- layers of dysfunction and an insightful portrayal of class relations, not to mention gorgeous, deliberate prose --- IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS is a definite departure from her usual fare, perfect for readers of Elizabeth Berg, Tracey Lange and Claire Lombardo.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on June 10, 2022

It All Comes Down to This
by Therese Anne Fowler

  • Publication Date: June 7, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250278074
  • ISBN-13: 9781250278074