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The Pessimists by Bethany Ball
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The Pessimists (edition 2021)

by Bethany Ball (Author)

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402554,616 (3.5)2
From Center for Fiction First Novel Prize finalist Bethany Ball comes a biting and darkly funny new novel that follows a set of privileged, jaded Connecticut suburbanites whose cozy, seemingly picture-perfect, lives begin to unravel amid shocking turns of fate and revelations of long-held secrets. Welcome to small-town Connecticut, a place whose inhabitants seem to have it all -- the status, the homes, the money, and the ennui. There's Tripp and Virginia, beloved hosts whom the community idolizes, whose basement hides among other things a secret stash of guns and a drastic plan to survive the end times. There's Gunter and Rachel, recent transplants who left New York City to raise their children, only to feel both imprisoned by the banality of suburbia. And Richard and Margot, community veterans whose extramarital affairs and battles with mental health are disguised by their enviably polished veneers and perfect children. At the center of it all is the Petra School, the most coveted of all the private schools in the state, a supposed utopia of mindfulness and creativity, with a history as murky and suspect as our character's inner worlds. With deep wit and delicious incisiveness, in The Pessimists, Bethany Ball peels back the veneer of upper-class white suburbia to expose the destructive consequences of unchecked privilege and moral apathy in a world that is rapidly evolving without them. This is a superbly drawn portrait of a community, and its couples, torn apart by unmet desires, duplicity, hypocrisy, and dangerous levels of discontent.… (more)
Member:Cosmicpylons
Title:The Pessimists
Authors:Bethany Ball (Author)
Info:Grove Press (2021), 304 pages
Collections:Your library
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The Pessimists by Bethany Ball

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Bethany Ball’s The Pessimists gives us a cutting, satirical look at American suburbia through the interlacing stories of three Connecticut couples. We first meet the protagonists during a New Year’s Eve party thrown by Virginia and her husband Tripp, who is obsessed with surviving the end times and keeps an arsenal of guns hidden in the basement. Virginia’s old friend Margot, an obsessive-compulsive “perfect” mother/housewife is there with her husband Richard, who has a not-so-secret crush on Virginia. Joining the circle of friends are Swedish architect Gunter and his much younger wife Rachel, who have recently moved from New York to provide their children with a quieter life. In the background there is the constant presence of the Petra School, a much-coveted local private educations institution which is looked up to as the epitome of progressive learning, but which might hide a darker history and methodology than is immediately apparent.

While in the first part of the book the characters are primarily presented as “couples”, the second partfocusses on the individuals. Like a magician shuffling a deck of cards and surprising the audience with sleight of hand, Ball has several twists up her sleeve. The result is an acerbic novel which is also unexpectedly gripping. I found it less of a laugh-out-load comedy than some other reviewers, but it is certainly a witty and thought-provoking satire.

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2021/07/the-pessimists-by-bethany-ball.html ( )
  JosephCamilleri | Jan 1, 2022 |
A small community in Connecticut. Three couples of middle age all have their respective struggles: Margot has never gotten over the loss of her baby girl, their three sons can only make up so much for this; while she is grieving, her husband Richard is having extramarital affairs to forget about his homely negative mood. Gunter and Rachel are new to the small place, the Swede has serious problems of adaptation and can only wonder about the small town Americans, whereas his wife Rachel tries to be supermom and get her children into the prestigious Petra school. Virginia’s daughter already attends this institution but the mother is starting to wonder if the place is actually a good choice while her husband Trip has developed an end of time fear and wants his family to be prepared for the worst case which is sure to come soon. While the parents are occupied with themselves, their kids are educated in a quite unique institution with very special educational views.

Bethany Ball paints a rather gloomy picture of three middle-aged families. The love at first sight and life on cloud number nine is only a faint memory, if they are still interested in their partner, this is more out of convenience than out of love. Their children are strange creatures with which they have rather complicated relationships and whom they do not seem to understand at all. Life does not have much to offer outside the big city and so, consequently, the turn into “The Pessimists”.

It is upper class white suburbia life that the novel ridicules: the invite the “right” people to dibber parties even though they hate barbecuing and do not even like their guests. The women are reduced to being housewives even though they had successful careers in the city, yet, these are not compatible with life in a small town. They are not even aware of how privileged they are, they feel depressed and deceived by life, seemingly none of them got what they expected from life. Apart from being miserable, they pretend that all is best in their life to keep up the picture they want the others to see. Only brief glances behind the facade allow the truth to show.

This rather dark atmosphere is broken up repeatedly by episodes of Petra school. It is the absolutely exaggerated picture of an alternative institution which actually does not take education too seriously, but is highly occupied with spiritual well-being and a lifestyle nobody can ever stick too. The information mails they send out to the parents are simply hilarious and made me laugh out loud more than once – however, I don’t doubt that such places might actually exist.

A satire of small town America which is funny on the one hand but quite serious regarding the message behind the superficial storyline. ( )
  miss.mesmerized | Oct 13, 2021 |
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From Center for Fiction First Novel Prize finalist Bethany Ball comes a biting and darkly funny new novel that follows a set of privileged, jaded Connecticut suburbanites whose cozy, seemingly picture-perfect, lives begin to unravel amid shocking turns of fate and revelations of long-held secrets. Welcome to small-town Connecticut, a place whose inhabitants seem to have it all -- the status, the homes, the money, and the ennui. There's Tripp and Virginia, beloved hosts whom the community idolizes, whose basement hides among other things a secret stash of guns and a drastic plan to survive the end times. There's Gunter and Rachel, recent transplants who left New York City to raise their children, only to feel both imprisoned by the banality of suburbia. And Richard and Margot, community veterans whose extramarital affairs and battles with mental health are disguised by their enviably polished veneers and perfect children. At the center of it all is the Petra School, the most coveted of all the private schools in the state, a supposed utopia of mindfulness and creativity, with a history as murky and suspect as our character's inner worlds. With deep wit and delicious incisiveness, in The Pessimists, Bethany Ball peels back the veneer of upper-class white suburbia to expose the destructive consequences of unchecked privilege and moral apathy in a world that is rapidly evolving without them. This is a superbly drawn portrait of a community, and its couples, torn apart by unmet desires, duplicity, hypocrisy, and dangerous levels of discontent.

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