Over the course of one Cape Cod summer, a complicated family slowly unravels as its patriarch loses his grip on life.
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Ken and Abby Gardner lost their mother when they were small and they have been haunted by her absence ever since. Their father, Adam, a brilliant oceanographer, raised them mostly on his own in his remote home on Cape Cod, where the attachment between Ken and Abby deepened into something complicated—and as adults their relationship is strained. Now, years later, the siblings’ lives are still deeply entwined. Ken is a successful businessman with political ambitions and a picture-perfect family and Abby is a talented visual artist who depends on her brother’s goodwill, in part because he owns the studio where she lives and works.
As the novel opens, Adam is approaching his seventieth birthday, staring down his mortality and fading relevance. He has always managed his bipolar disorder with medication, but he’s determined to make one last scientific breakthrough and so he has secretly stopped taking his pills, which he knows will infuriate his children. Meanwhile, Abby and Ken are both harboring secrets of their own, and there is a new person on the periphery of the family—Steph, who doesn’t make her connection known. As Adam grows more attuned to the frequencies of the deep sea and less so to the people around him, Ken and Abby each plan the elaborate gifts they will present to their father on his birthday, jostling for primacy in this small family unit.
Adam Gardner hadn’t slept well in weeks. He awoke daily to random words, incoherent thoughts, and fleeting images, convinced that their meaning, though not yet clear, would develop in the gelatin silver process of his mind. Each morning, buzzing, he slung his legs off the bed and sat bolt upright, naked, allowing his male parts to hang over the edge of the mattress, and did his best to capture these jangled dreams, recording what details he could remember in a spiral-bound notebook kept by his bedside. His daytime musings spread onto legal pads, Post-it Notes, and the backs of envelopes and receipts, mostly in the form of unedited bullet-point lists. His house, located deep in the Wellfleet Woods, was littered with scraps of paper covered with his fastidious penmanship.
• Deepening pitch of whale vocalizations
• Ocean spirals: shells, whirlpools, waves, bubble nets, seahorse tails
• Sound’s relationship to the inner-ear labyrinth (another spiral?)
• Mystery of infinity: 1 = .99999999 . . .
Adam tried to decipher the clues his mind was depositing. He had one big discovery left in him, he felt sure of that. This thing, whatever it was—an idea? a theory?—was taking its own sweet time to make itself known. He knew he needed to trust the process. If he could practice patience and maintain equilibrium, Adam felt certain that every book he’d ever read, every piece of art that had ever moved him, every conversation, creature, curiosity, and concept he’d encountered in his lifetime would align like cherries in the slot machine of his mind.
For now, the anticipation of it, the pre-buzz of impending discovery, was as mouthwatering as the squeak of a wine cork before dinner. He basked in an exquisite sensation of déjà vu, feeling a comradeship with other great discoverers: James Cook, Charles Darwin, Jacques Cousteau . . .
Why I love it
Mary Beth Keane
Author, The Half Moon
Adrienne Brodeur’s beautiful new novel, Little Monsters, is set in Cape Cod and my goodness, what authority she has in describing that world. The prose of this novel is alive with the sounds, smells, and sights of the rugged outer Cape, and you don’t have to be the least bit familiar with the area to be transfixed. But setting here is not merely incidental. The landscape, the marshes and the ponds, the whales beneath the surface of the ocean are all weaved into the tapestry of this incredibly moving portrait of a fractured family. Does the place we’re from become an integral part of our DNA? Are we in constant communication with the world around us, whether we realize it or not? This book argues: yes.
And then there are the people who populate the novel. First, we meet irascible Adam. He’s past his prime and knows it, so he’s clinging hard to a time that simply will not come back to him. From there we meet his children—Ken and Abby—and the rest of the cast. There is an immediacy to Brodeur’s language, a specificity that feels intimate and lived in. The characters came alive for me in vivid color, and I wanted for them all the things they wanted for themselves. Respect, a breakthrough, praise, and of course, love.
Little Monsters is my favorite summer read of 2023 and I know plenty of readers out there will agree with me. It pulsates with all the vibrancy of life itself.
Member ratings (1,689)
Montvale , NJ
Didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did! The enigmatic family drama culminated in one of the best endings I have ever read…moving & leaving me teary & yet so happy with the final revelations
Colorado Springs, CO
I vacillated between love and like for a long time. It's uncomfortable, with some unlikeable people and situations, but ultimately, a book that provokes thought to real life, long after, deserves a ❤️
Shingle Springs , CA
This was a really good book. A modern day take on Cain and Able. I enjoyed the building of the characters. This may be a trigger for some but I would recommend.Not a perfect ending which is appreciate
Brodeur delivers another lively and lyrical tale, filled with vivid descriptions of Cape Cod and sea life & a return to a bittersweet pre-Trump time rich with longing for a feminist future. Loved it!
West Trenton, NJ
I loved Wild Game and this next book did not disappoint! The story keeps you guessing until the end and I love the different family perspectives. It's an interesting look at choices and found family.