Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Book Review: With Regrets

By Jami Denison

Ever since The Stepford Wives was published in 1972, readers have known that wealthy white suburbs are a horror of plastic people and their perfect children. Behind the fa├žade hides adultery, gambling, addiction and more. The genre is so popular and persistent that it’s often crossed with other genres—romance, comedy, domestic suspense. Now author Lee Kelly has matched it with sci-fi in her latest novel, With Regrets. In it, a neighborhood dinner party traps snarky suburbanites together as the end of the world arrives. Luckily, one of them is sharing everything on Instagram!

It's a post-COVID world, and Liz Brinkley has just moved from NYC to the upper middle-class suburb, The Falls. Her husband Tom is eager to make friends with his new neighbors, but Liz finds them pretentious, especially “lifestyle influencer” Britta Harris-Che. When Britta sends them a last-minute dinner party invitation, Tom insists that they go—even though it means leaving their grade-school children, Reid and Callie, in the hands of an 11-year-old babysitter. 

The dinner party is miserable—Britta only cares about her Instagram account, and she and her husband keep fighting—and Liz has almost convinced Tom to leave when the unimaginable happens: A “glimmer” in the sky that electrocutes everyone it touches. It isn’t safe to go outside; no one knows exactly how the glimmer is transmitted, and now the ten dinner party guests (plus the chef and sommelier) are trapped, along with Britta’s children. Desperate to get home to her own children, Liz is ready to do almost anything to escape. 

Kelly does a fantastic job of taking an extraordinary premise and moving it from the world of science fiction/horror and plopping it right in suburbia. Her descriptions were so vivid, I found myself afraid to go outside while I was reading it. 

Still, I did have some issues with the book. Kelly starts off with Google alerts, a newspaper article, and emails, which made me think the novel would be completely in this form. I was relieved it wasn’t—I almost put down the book after the series of emails. 

It was also difficult to keep track of all the characters, especially since many of them are (third person) point of view characters. And Britta, in particular, seems almost like a caricature with her obsession with posting and hashtags. She makes the first few chapters seem like a satire. 

Once Kelly kills off a few people and the stakes go sky high, the book hits its stride and doesn’t give up. The crisis sharpens the characters into their true selves, good and bad. There are surprising twists, character development, and an emotionally satisfying ending. The only thing missing was an explanation for the glimmer, but since this book isn’t sci-fi, that made sense.

With Regrets starts with a rough few chapters, but I encourage readers to stick with it. Like good fiction, everything pays off in the end. 

Thanks to BookSparks for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Lee Kelly:

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