Surrender, Dorothy: A Novel

For years, Sara Swerdlow was transported by an unfettered sense of immortality. Floating along on loving friendships and the adoration of her mother, Natalie, Sara’s notion of death was entirely alien to her existence. But when a summer night’s drive out for ice cream ends in tragedy, thirty-year-old Sara — “held aloft and shimmering for years” — finally lands.
Mining the intricate relationship between love and mourning, acclaimed novelist Meg Wolitzer explores a single, overriding question: who, finally, “owns” the excruciating loss of this young woman — her mother or her closest friends? Depicting the aftermath of Sara’s shocking death with piercing humor and shattering realism, Surrender, Dorothy is the luminously thoughtful, deeply moving exploration of what it is to be a mother and a friend, and, above all, what it takes to heal from unthinkable loss.Sara Swerdlow and Adam Langer are in many ways the ideal Manhattan pair. Their relationship is unvexed by the strains of sexual attraction, since both prefer men, and has even survived Adam’s huge early success as “the gay Neil Simon.” This couple, after all, can commiserate about lovers, talk about their favorite types, and ponder “the puzzlingly popular aesthetic of boxer shorts, which transformed all men into their uncles.” Each August, along with their married friends Maddy and Peter, they rent the perfect Long Island wreck, complete with impossible landlady. Now that they’re all 30, each is clinging to the last vestiges of youth–and a little concerned that Maddy and Peter’s baby, not to mention Adam’s new boyfriend, will alter the chemistry. But what no one can possibly know is that an accident will put Sara entirely out of the picture and bring her grieving, eccentric mother into it.

Killing off her ostensible heroine so early in Surrender, Dorothy may initially seem a bizarre undertaking, since Meg Wolitzer’s fans would be more than content with her take on the foursome’s summer holiday. The author, let’s recall, is an expert social observer, and can turn a divinely comic phrase in her sleep. But in her fifth novel Wolitzer is aiming for more, and her expertly controlled scenes slide from charming farce to deeper melancholy. Set in a temporary summer rental, Surrender, Dorothy is really about the permanence of loss and revelation. –Kerry Fried

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