Small Hours

The hours are anything but small or quiet in Jennifer Kitses's first novel; they unspool during a single day in the lives of her protagonists Helen and Tom. In their early 40s, the couple moved with their toddler twin daughters to a small town up the Hudson from their cramped apartment in Queens, N.Y. Everything looked rosy when they could finally afford the roomy suburban house, but the Great Recession put their mortgage underwater and took their secure jobs with it. Told alternatively from both Tom's and Helen's points of view, Small Hours is the story of a seemingly stable marriage unraveling in one day, through a minefield of secrets and a series of bad choices. A former reporter at Bloomberg News, Kitses cranks up the tension hour by hour as Tom and Helen fall apart mistake by mistake.

Helen works all hours from home "designing visuals for marketing campaigns to sell products with names like Iron Fuel, Molten Rage, and Jacked 'n Loaded." Tom takes the 90-minute train ride up and back to Midtown to edit science stories for a wire service with a draconian boss and an attractive intern. His day begins with a surprise excursion with his daughters to a waterfall outside town, which turns into a crying jag after the girls' awkward potty stop in the woods. Behind on a big deadline, Helen's on edge during a morning walk with the girls when she is confronted by two teen girls smoking and taunting her at the playground. And their day gets worse as they juggle poorly paid jobs, exhausting parenting, extramarital temptations and ever-present financial stress. Dissecting 24 hours, Kitses artfully blows the covers off a couple's would-be blissful marital bed and bucolic suburban life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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