Ramona Ausubel’s sparkling second novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, is packed with wisdoms. The Berkeley author’s prior work has won awards and appeared in the New Yorker; this third, glorious work will surely confirm her as a vibrant, memorable voice in contemporary American letters ... One longs to quote the many 'wisdoms' on almost every page of Sons and Daughters. A terrific exuberance and tenderness drives the telling, as it wings back and forth in time: full-blooded, sorrowing, funny, lush with backstories and images so acute you read them twice, three times.
What could seem like a predictable gimmick soon gives way to a series of weird and wonderful scenes, switching between present and past to reveal how Edgar and Fern got to where they are. Ausubel’s writing, melancholy and fine, shines in illuminating everyday scenes of life ... Even the throwaway details are terrific ... The one off-note is struck by Fern and Edgar’s frequent examination of their privileged status.
In her new book, Ausubel’s approach is straight storytelling that mines emotional truth without recourse to fabrication or the fantastic ... Ausubel alternates her drama, detailing in one chapter the next stage of the family unraveling in 1976, and in the next describing how the family formed in the late 1960s. Both time frames have their fair share of fresh, witty and skillfully imagined scenes, from young Edgar dodging Vietnam and ending up 'a misplaced toy soldier' in Alaska, to Fern going into labor and having her twins delivered by the two Swedish men who have come to assemble her desk ... One pivotal scene fails to convince — a dinner party that almost descends into a swingers’ evening — due to Edgar’s implausible behavior. Otherwise, Ausubel’s characters steer her bold and absorbing novel and keep us emotionally invested in their foibles, ideals and desires.