Skip to main content

What Could Be Saved

Review

What Could Be Saved

WHAT COULD BE SAVED, Liese O’Halloran Schwarz’s latest novel, is a time-travel tale that feels very relevant to our strange COVID-lockdown world. Each of us has been separated from people who are important in our lives. As the pandemic wears on, it seems as if by the time we see our loved ones face to face again, there’s a good chance that they will have changed a great deal…or we will have. Not just in looks, but in the very ways in which they express themselves or the things that they now hold dear or important in their individual existences.

So the twin stories of Laura Preston and her long-lost brother, Philip, and the parents who created them and mishandled their family life, present a legion of questions that may be plaguing us right now: Who are we, who is important to us, and how do time and circumstances change the very fabric of the world in which we live, as well as the souls we inhabit?

"WHAT COULD BE SAVED [is] a page-turner of the highest literary quality.... Its taut dialogue, multi-dimensional characters and emotional plotlines make it highly recommended for anyone who needs a good distraction from the daily grind of 2021 America or the pandemic in general."

In 2018, Laura is a painter who is at odds with both her family and her artistry. Trying to deal with a fickle public, an aggressive dealer and her mom’s less than elegant slide into dementia, she is ready for an adventure. It comes in the shape of the sudden reappearance of a brother who had gone missing decades ago when the family was living in Bangkok. Laura’s sister, Bea, thinks the person contacting them is a scammer, but Laura decides it’s worth a chance and flies to Thailand to discover the truth about his identity. When she meets him, however, the excitement of this adventure takes on a decidedly difficult tone --- and brings up a myriad of questions that neither Laura nor Bea could have imagined they would face.

Schwarz then swings us into the world of 1972 Bangkok. Genevieve and Robert Preston have what looks like a perfect life --- the perfect kids with the perfect talents in the perfect home with the perfect surroundings, thanks to the perfect mix of career success and financial luck. Their home is run by a group of servants, protected from the outside world by a giant wall, and the only people who are granted access to all this perfection are the men and women who live on a similar level. However, as the war in Vietnam breaks down and the world in Southeast Asia metamorphoses, the protective walls and luster of their choices no longer keep them separate from the crazy changes occurring in the world all around them. It is in this world that eight-year-old Philip goes missing.

Sprinting back and forth between the two time periods, the history of this illustrious but morally bankrupt family becomes more muddled. As Laura and Philip find a new connection as siblings, it is clear that the children have a heap of discoveries to make on the Thai shores where once upon a time their parents made choices that swung their lives into all manner of disorder.

Schwarz keeps the tension thick and the pathos low as she pulls us back and forth through the family origin story and the terrible truths they have buried in the sands of their past. With their mother slowly losing her grip on reality, it is up to the siblings to find the reality of their history and to help fix the continent-wide divisions that those incidents caused.

The drama of the ex-pat family, the torturous building of the realities that caused their ruin, and the still-desperate need to try to find some way to bring the family back together makes WHAT COULD BE SAVED a page-turner of the highest literary quality. Matching the confusion of the world as we are coming to know it, Schwarz’s family begins to navigate the tumult and wonder if anything will ever seem normal again. This book couldn’t have come out at a better time. Its taut dialogue, multi-dimensional characters and emotional plotlines make it highly recommended for anyone who needs a good distraction from the daily grind of 2021 America or the pandemic in general.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 15, 2021

What Could Be Saved
by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

  • Publication Date: January 12, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982150610
  • ISBN-13: 9781982150617