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The Lifeguards


The Lifeguards

THE LIFEGUARDS, Amanda Eyre Ward’s latest book, is a domestic suspense novel set in Austin’s exclusive Zilker Park neighborhood, where the kids have it all and the moms make sure they don’t lose any of it.

In the summer of 2019, teenagers Charlie, Xavier and Bobcat (Robert) are finally the lifeguards at the local pool, the perfect place to transform into little men, learn some responsibility and, naturally, flirt with the teenage girls. Best friends who have called themselves the Three Musketeers since childhood, the boys think they’ve really arrived. However, little do they know that it’s their mothers who are pulling all the strings to make sure their summers, friendships and lives are perfect.

Liza, Whitney and Annette are also best friends --- wine-loving, soccer-team-driving suburban moms who are in not-so-secret competition with one another, as much as they deny it. Liza, the only single mom in the group, love bombs her besties for fear of losing them. Her background is not as pristine or moneyed as theirs, and she knows that it is only her proximity to them that makes her look just as privileged and in control. If their group has a cool girl, it is definitely Whitney, one-half of a real estate power couple who caters to millennial millionaires and clients who fear the collapse of America. Still, with your children eagerly reporting to their first jobs and your best friends by your side, what more could you want?

"[A]s a commentary on privileged, suburban America, Ward packs a mean punch, delivering crystalline observations with a hearty side of wit and tongue-in-cheek humor."

Everything is going according to plan until the moms are interrupted during a boozy backyard party by their sons and a big surprise. During a late-night swim at their favorite woodsy watering hole, the boys discovered the body of a young woman. They swear they didn’t know her, have anything to do with her or touch her, except to perform CPR (ultimately a lost cause), but every mom knows when her child is lying. Desperate to keep their sweet sons safe, each mom kicks into protective high gear, turning best friend against best friend, son against son, and the entire Zilker Park community upside down.

There’s just one problem. In their mad dash to prove their sons’ innocence, none of the mothers thought to ask them what really happened. When evidence emerges suggesting that the deceased, Lucy, not only knew one of the boys but may have been intimately involved with him, the police --- and the media, the court of public opinion --- descend upon Zilker Park, and it's every mom for her (and her son’s) self.

Reflecting back on that fateful night, Liza says, “I wish I had made [Charlie] tell me what he was thinking, what he was dealing with, who he loved. But I was weary…. I didn’t want to contemplate the possibility that my son could be involved with a dead body. So I kept quiet, too.” If novels could have thesis statements, this would be the winning argument for Ward’s conclusion about the lengths to which mothers will go to protect their children, but also about the alluring danger of the lies we tell ourselves.

Writing from the perspectives of Liza, Whitney, Annette, each of their sons, and even the police detective investigating the case, and peppering the book with text messages, police reports and neighborhood Facebook group chat logs, Ward weaves a tale of tight-knit, toxic communities, the powerful love of motherhood, and a stunning loss of innocence that sets their Austin community ablaze with gossip.

Ward already has proven herself adept at writing unlikable yet incredibly riveting characters in THE JETSETTERS, a family drama set aboard a cruise ship. In THE LIFEGUARDS, she broadens her scope to an entire community, ramping up not only the cast of characters, but also the drama, tension and backstabbing. As a domestic suspense, the plot is solid enough, if a bit convoluted at times --- I found the different perspectives especially difficult to keep straight --- but as a commentary on privileged, suburban America, Ward packs a mean punch, delivering crystalline observations with a hearty side of wit and tongue-in-cheek humor.

Annette is not an American citizen, though she also grew up comfortably and with disposable income. Along with Liza, the not-so-privileged member of their group, Annette provides a fascinating inside-out perspective of their coveted, exclusive neighborhood that is keen and eye-opening. At the same time, Whitney has to think of privilege, climate change, wealth, politics and more as she caters to her wealthy clients. She, too, delivers some sobering conclusions: “Climate change was obviously real, though everyone was trying their best to ignore it. Something about the impossible fact that life was changing, and fast, made it preferable to talk about Instagram, wine varietals, snacks. The strategy…was both immoral and disgusting, but was it worse than ignoring the looming collective fate?” Ouch.

Perfect for readers of THE LYING CLUB, GOOD NEIGHBORS and TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, THE LIFEGUARDS (like its title suggests) is sure to keep you from any pool accidents this summer. You’ll be too busy reading to soak.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on April 15, 2022

The Lifeguards
by Amanda Eyre Ward

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0593159462
  • ISBN-13: 9780593159460