Forced together on a trip from Manhattan to Rhode Island, a father and son attempt to renew their bond over lobster, cigarettes, and a buried secret. A pure-hearted artist finds his devotion cruelly tested, while his true love tries to repent for the biggest mistake of her life. Unwittingly thrust into an open marriage, a man struggles to reconnect with his newly devout son. The Book of Life comprises seven tales about faith, family, grief, love, temptation, and redemption.
Nadler’s writing flows so effortlessly that you almost miss the immense density and complexity of his debut book, The Book of Life. He writes with the pen of a master, but with the genuine passion of a novice ... Amidst the ruins, Nadler finds traces of redemption in the hazardous terrain of tattered relationships. Nadler provides no easy answers as to how to navigate this land ... But in the world Nadler creates, the attempts, the subtle gestures, the weight of the unspoken, their comic absurdities, bring out the deep humanity of the characters ... Here, setting, written in beautiful prose, serves not only to ground the reader in the immediate now, but acts as its own character, as valium, as a status symbol, and as reservoirs of memory ... Nadler emerges as an exquisite writer of ellipses.
One thing becomes readily clear about Stuart Nadler, whose graceful, keenly perceptive debut collection offers narratives of young love, middle-class infidelity, families in mourning, and fathers connecting clumsily with sons: this guy has read his Cheever ... 'Winter on the Sawtooth' is an especially stunning and generous piece of work—a portrait of a father struggling to overcome a betrayal by his wife and an estrangement from his son ... Nadler’s work celebrates the complexity hidden in ordinary-seeming lives
His debut collection of short stories is undeniably accomplished and sometimes moving, but their quality is uneven and there is a repetitiveness of subject matter that detracts from, rather than enhances, their resonant power ... There are echoes of the motifs that have concerned Roth and Updike over their long careers ... Nadler proves himself adept at creating tension through oblique dialogue, and the lack of communication between characters is a theme that runs throughout the book ... He doesn't seem sure how to end a narrative ... When Nadler gives the reader a reason to feel optimism, his writing seems to shine, as if that's where his own feelings really lie. The more downbeat stories are less convincing.