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The Paper Palace Bets On...

The Paper Palace

July 2021

THE PAPER PALACE by Miranda Cowley Heller came to my attention when Reese Witherspoon selected it, and then it debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at #1. I love being on top of upcoming books, but this one was not on my radar. That said, once it was in my hands, I devoured it in 24 hours, not going to sleep until 2am and turning on the light more than once to say, “One more chapter.” It worked for me for all the things one loves in a book --- setting, timing and characters.

This captivating novel is set on Cape Cod, but not the Cape that I have read a lot about. There are more lakes and ponds than beaches. The houses are not palatial; in fact, where the Bishop family lives, it’s all utilitarian like a summer camp, where essentials are covered but overblown chic is missing. There is a main house and several smaller cabins. The family has dubbed it the "Paper Palace,” referencing the construction of the cabins with some subpar materials that have led to their being patched again and again. There’s a private lake and a few public ones. The family escapes there each summer. Setting matters a lot here; it sets the tone. 

The book is set over one day --- and 50 years. It’s an unusual way to tell a story, but at the same time, I loved moving back and forth to see how the plot rolled ahead --- and how the backstory came together.

And then there are the characters. Elle Bishop, who is now in her 50s, has spent every summer here at the Cape with her family. The book opens with one of the more intense starts that I have ever read. By the third page, we know that Elle had sex for the first time with her childhood friend, Jonas, the night before. As this happened, Elle’s husband of many years, Peter, and her three children were back inside the house eating dinner, along with her mother and Jonas’ wife. It’s like she lost her virginity in some kind of backwards way, after the marriage and the children. And from there, we head backwards…and ahead. Who is Elle, who is Jonas, and what have they meant to each other?

There are secrets, many of them, and we watch how those secrets come to bear on everyone. Elle is looking at the choices that she has made in her life --- and what influenced them. Her parents are divorced, and her dad has married multiple times. Her mom remarried and brought not only a stepfather into her life, but also his children, who profoundly impacted her. Wallace, her mother, is formidable and polished. She, too, was subjected to her own mother’s marital choices, which were not good and started the waves of uncertainty and lack of trust for this family. We ride those waves with Elle seeing the world through her eyes.

And then there is the final page, the one that will have you wanting to call others who have read it to talk about it. Do not read ahead. THE PAPER PALACE is one of my favorite books of the year. Book clubs, there is a lot to talk about!

The Paper Palace
by Miranda Cowley Heller

  • Publication Date: April 19, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 059332983X
  • ISBN-13: 9780593329832