Virtue, Hermione Hoby's achingly acute and ultimately shattering second novel, covers a painfully consequential year in the life of 23-year-old narrator Luca Lewis. Luca's unrest stems from the 2016 presidential election, which has just delivered a surprise winner, as well as from his shaky grasp on how to live honorably: "I wanted badly to be good; I wanted desperately to be liked. It was easy to confuse the two."
As the novel begins, Luca, a white Dartmouth graduate from Colorado, has landed a nine-month internship at a storied New York literary magazine. At a work gathering, he meets artist Paula Summers, who has done some of the magazine's covers, and her filmmaker husband, Jason Frank. Soon Luca is enjoying regular Sunday dinners with a retinue of lefty artists at Paula and Jason's Brooklyn brownstone. By the time Paula invites him to spend the summer in Maine with her, Jason and their kids, Luca is in her Gatsby-like thrall. Likewise exerting a pull is Luca's fellow intern Zara McKing, a Black graduate of Brown University who laments the paucity of minority voices in the magazine and calls Luca's summer plans "white nonsense."
Who would have guessed that one of literature's best vivisectionists of the Trump era's white woke-noscente would be a London-raised Coloradan author? Virtue is light on story--Luca's revelations often play like plot points--but Hoby (Neon in Daylight) seems to be betting on her sparkling sentences and indelible characterizations to hold readers rapt. It's a bet she will likely win, and deservedly. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer