... 200 or so quicksilver pages ... LeFavour is unsparing in her exploration and interrogation of her characters’ cosseted, if fragile, world of class and privilege. She examines their lives with an anthropologist’s care. Or maybe an anatomist’s ... The author of several cookbooks, LeFavour clearly knows how to cut close to the bone ... In the right light, even acid sparkles, and this otherwise scarifying book does so on every page. A pre-publication blurb cites Cheever and Ian McEwan as comparisons, but the closer one by far is Tom Wolfe, who could learn a thing or two from LeFavour’s searing examination of Alice’s and Peter’s struggle to navigate their world ... If the National Book Awards decides to carve out a separate subcategory for depictions of fights between lovers, LeFavour should take both the prize and honorable mention for two such scenes in this novel. They’re gripping, deftly handled, and deeply satisfying ... I’ll nominate her for one more imaginary award, as well: research. It’s not just the unerring aptness of all those status details mentioned earlier, nor the deep, holistic view of psychiatry from the doctor’s side of the couch (there’s even a brief and funny history of such couches here), but that each character, even Maebell, feels fully real.
In this lifelike, charming, and witty portrayal of mostly-well-mannered marriage doldrums, LeFavour lets Alice and Peter unleash their inner storms onto the page long before they act on them. Their paramours become ciphers for all they think they’ve lost in one another, and the opposition between their respective sciences—and themselves—turns out to be a mirror.
LeFavour is an award-winning cookbook writer, but don’t expect a foodie novel. Fans of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble or Ann Beattie’s short stories will enjoy this wry, sophisticated, and intelligent rendering of modern, privileged city life.
Here we have a novel that we could not by any stretch of the imagination call a bad book ... On the other hand, this is not a novel that I would recommend to friends or will remember a year from now ... Is it not sufficient to pass a reader’s time agreeably enough, and to tell a proficiently executed story with an age-old theme and an updated setting? I don’t know. You tell me ... I simply wanted to let you in on a commonplace conundrum for critics: what to say about a book that isn’t hurting anybody and is competently executed, but without whose publication the universe would be exactly the same ... One aspect of Private Means does feel modern: It contains a single sex scene between different people. The rest, and there are several, are all scenes of masturbation. That ratio seems about right. All told, to survive this chilling era, we’ll vary widely on whether we select such perfectly pleasant, comfortingly familiar fiction for distraction or prefer something meatier. Your choice.
... lackluster ... While LeFavour leans on clichés about the male and female psyches, and on the awkward tic of starting too many sentences the same way, the narrative credibly shows how the characters are driven from the confines of their relationship by their desires. In the end, LeFavour misses the mark in this middling domestic tale.
Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but it feels as though we’ve heard this story before. It is an intimate domestic drama presented without subtlety; every action has a clear and obvious motivation, and every motivation is explained at length. Alice’s infidelity, we’re told, is not just about sex, but rather because 'she’d locate a shred of her former self.' Peter can’t stop fantasizing about the patient, he explains, because she reminds him 'of so much I lack.' LeFavour (Lights On, Rats Out, 2017) offers an empathetic and detailed portrait of a marriage, but not—with the exception of one explosive scene toward the novel’s end—an especially insightful one ... A familiar tale of upper-middle-class ennui.