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Books We Love: Mary Louise Kelly picks Miranda Cowley Heller's 'The Paper Palace'


Ta-da - NPR's 2021 Books We Love is up. It is ready for you online. If you have not visited yet, it's gorgeous - this very visual experience that allows you to sort through hundreds of reviews of books published this year, including my review. My pick this year was "The Paper Palace," a novel by Miranda Cowley Heller. I tore through it on a New England beach this past summer, which felt appropriate since the story unfolds on Cape Cod.

MIRANDA COWLEY HELLER: Most of the novel is set in the backwoods of the Outer Cape on the edge of this pond where the family of the heroine, Elle Bishop, has had a camp on the edge of a pond that's ironically called the Paper Palace because when it was built, her grandfather who built it ran out of money. And so he built a lot of it out of Homasote, which is a kind of cardboard.

KELLY: The central character is Elle Bishop. She is middle-aged. She's a mom. And she faces a choice - stay with her husband, who she loves, or leave him and embark on an entirely different life with her childhood sweetheart, the only man who knows her deepest secrets.

COWLEY HELLER: When the novel opens, she has just woken when she takes this swim and remembers what she did the night before, which was that her very best friend, whose name is Jonas - during a dinner party her mother is giving with Jonas's wife Gina present and Elle's husband Peter present, Jonas and Elle go out back and have sex, very hot sex, for the first time, even though they have been best friends since childhood. Now she finds herself at this crossroads. And over the next 24 hours, she's going to have to decide whether to stay with her very beloved and wonderful, gorgeous husband Peter or the man she always dreamed of and thought she would marry if something rather terrible hadn't broken them apart in their childhood.

KELLY: The pages pose an intriguing question - how do we know if we're living the life we were meant to lead?

COWLEY HELLER: When you love two people that passionately, there is a need to choose. It can't be an affair. There's no way Jonas could be an affair, and so she knows this. She knows herself.

KELLY: If you're looking for a beach read, one you can't put down but that also makes you think, this is a great choice. For this and other books to fill your holidays, sandy or snowy, check out NPR's Books We Love at npr.org/bookswelove.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Elena Burnett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.

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