Title: The Latecomer
Author: Jean Hanff Korelitz
Genre: Fiction – Family Drama
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Length: 16 hours (448 pages)
Publisher: Celadon Books
Release Date: May 31, 2022
Source: ARC from publisher, ALC via NetGalley
Content Warnings: infertility, miscarriage, car accident, death of parent, infidelity, outing, cultural appropriation
The Latecomer follows the story of the wealthy, New York City-based Oppenheimer family, from the first meeting of parents Salo and Johanna, under tragic circumstances, to their triplets born during the early days of IVF. As children, the three siblings – Harrison, Lewyn, and Sally – feel no strong familial bond and cannot wait to go their separate ways, even as their father becomes more distanced and their mother more desperate. When the triplets leave for college, Johanna, faced with being truly alone, makes the decision to have a fourth child. What role will the “latecomer” play in this fractured family?
A complex novel that builds slowly and deliberately, The Latecomer touches on the topics of grief and guilt, generational trauma, privilege and race, traditions and religion, and family dynamics. It is a profound and witty family story from an accomplished author, known for the depth of her character studies, expertly woven storylines, and plot twists.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Latecomer is a layered and immersive literary novel about three siblings, desperate to escape one another, and the upending of their family by the late arrival of a fourth.
Family drama is a very hit or miss genre for me, and unfortunately this one was a miss. I know unlikable characters are a hallmark of family dramas, but I didn’t find any of the characters to be particularly sympathetic, which made it difficult to care about the events of the story. The only character I really liked was Phoebe, the titular latecomer, who didn’t appear in the story in a meaningful way until about 3/4 through the book.
The narration was confusing to me. The book is technically written in 1st person from Phoebe’s point of view, but since she was either not born or an infant throughout the first two sections of the book, Parts 1 and 2 were written primarily in 3rd person with a few disorienting phrases like “our father” and “our mother” sprinkled throughout.
This book was just too long and slow at over 400 pages. Part 3 was more interesting than the previous sections, but by then I was just trying to make it through to the end. This book had some promising Jewish representation, but the story just didn’t do anything for me.
Note: This story has a heavy focus on infertility and IVF treatments.