4.3 3
by Mona Simpson

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From the acclaimed and award-winning author of Anywhere But Here and My Hollywood, a powerful new novel about a young boy’s quest to uncover the mysteries of his unraveling family. What he discovers turns out to be what he least wants to know: the inner workings of his parents’ lives. And even then he can’t stop searching.

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From the acclaimed and award-winning author of Anywhere But Here and My Hollywood, a powerful new novel about a young boy’s quest to uncover the mysteries of his unraveling family. What he discovers turns out to be what he least wants to know: the inner workings of his parents’ lives. And even then he can’t stop searching.

Miles Adler-Hart starts eavesdropping to find out what his mother is planning for his life. When he learns instead that his parents are separating, his investigation deepens, and he enlists his best friend, Hector, to help. Both boys are in thrall to Miles’s unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is “pretty for a mathematician.” They rifle through her dresser drawers, bug her telephone lines, and strip-mine her computer, only to find that all clues lead them to her bedroom, and put them on the trail of a mysterious stranger from Washington, D.C.

Their amateur detective work starts innocently but quickly takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family’s well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil and concoct modes of revenge on their villains that are both hilarious and naïve. Eventually, haltingly, they learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.

Casebook brilliantly reveals an American family both coming apart at the seams and, simultaneously, miraculously reconstituting itself to sustain its members through their ultimate trial. Mona Simpson, once again, demonstrates her stunning mastery, giving us a boy hero for our times whose story remains with us long after the novel is over.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/10/2014
Simpson’s (My Hollywood) sixth novel portrays a Santa Monica, Calif., family through the eyes of the only son, Miles Adler-Hart, a habitual eavesdropper who watches his mother, Irene, with great intensity. From an early age, Miles senses the vulnerability of his mother, a recently divorced mathematician, and throughout his childhood and adolescence feels the need to look out for her. When Irene falls in love with Eli Lee, Miles is highly suspicious. He enlists his best friend, Hector, to help him look deep into Eli’s background, going so far as to work with a private investigator. Simpson elevates this world of tree houses and walkie-talkies not only through Miles’s intelligence—“‘Hope for happiness is happiness,’” he tells Hector—but through the startling revelations he uncovers. Simpson tastefully crafts her story in a world of privilege, with private school, show business jobs, and housekeepers all present, but never prevalent details. More remarkable is Simpson’s knowledge of her characters, which is articulated through subtle detail: we are not surprised by the flea market blackboard in the kitchen, nor by the preachy quotation Irene chooses to write on it. Ultimately, this is a story about a son’s love for his mother, and Simpson’s portrayal of utter loyalty is infectious. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
 “Singular and haunting . . . filled with the quirky and succinct descriptions for which Simpson’s writing is justly celebrated . . . Her verbs are delicious. . . . It’s like watching those small revolving dashes of rainbow-colored light caused by a crystal hung in a window.”—Julia Keller, NPR
Casebook displays Simpson’s signature impressionism. Think Seurat’s pointillist dots rather than Van Gogh’s lavish strokes. Miles’s world is made of tiny scenes, images, anecdotes—collage-like but easy to follow. Fans of Simpson’s My Hollywood will appreciate the thematic kinship, comedy, aphoristic observations and the unflinching look at the effects of divorce. Casebook tackles heavy themes, but with a touch lighter than her early novels—easier to digest, charming, sure-footed and as engaging as ever.”—Josh Cook, Star/Tribune

"Simpson's story unfolds with magnetic force. . . . She handles the passage of Miles's crucial years through and beyond high school, including awkward relationships with two girls, with finesse. From beginning to end, it's clear that in everything he does, Miles loves his mother. His indisputable, powerful, and consistent filial love gives 'Casebook' enormous emotional power and makes the surprise ending a heart-breaker."—Jane Ciabattari, The Boston Globe
"Adult relationships are the true mystery here. Simpson manipulates the tropes of suspense fiction astutely, and the touches of noir are delicate. "—The New Yorker

Captivating . . . Simpson’s aim is to lyrically capture the time between childhood and adulthood, as fleeting and delicate as the golden-hour light that filmmakers chase.”—Lisa Zeidner, The Washington Post
“Just as in Anywhere But Here, Simpson’s central, complicated relationship of parent and child is both a motif and a window into bared hearts . . . She has a gift for re-creating the unique psychological landscape of the adolescent . . . Miles is an extraordinary character—exceptionally intuitive, observant, feeling.”—Susannah Luthi, Los Angeles Review of Books

“What’s most remarkable is how Simpson effortlessly snares readers inside a full, intimate world. . . . And for a few delicious days allows readers to relish the innocence of childhood and the intense yearning to discover the secrets of life.”—Christine Thomas, The Miami Herald

“Miles Adler-Hart is a teen with a mission: He’s trying to understand his mom. Not because she’s a big-deal mathematician but because by understanding her, he might fathom love, sex, and how his parents’ marriage fell apart. . . . Simpson’s beautifully crafted novel shows us a reconfigured California family through the eyes of a smart, funny adolescent longing to keep hope alive.”
—Anne Leslie, People Magazine
“A wonderfully dramatic vantage point for us readers, a fresh way to explore the ways families fall apart and come together. . . . Casebook surprises us with its discoveries and offers up a reminder that despite troubles and disappointments, confusion and heartbreak, life can be sweet.”—Natalie Serber, The Oregonian
“Simpson is . . . adept at capturing the world of moneyed life in a California beach town once there is less of it and the uncertainty of children navigating the new rules of divorce. . . . Happiness, and its elusiveness is a running theme throughout the novel. Miles tries to define it, as if by pinning it down, he might be able to secure more of for his mom.”—Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor 

“The heart of the book is simply the story of an emotional coming-of-age.  Simpson’s novel is at its strongest in the quiet, unadorned gray areas where Miles’s childhood neuroses and tender loving impulses for his family mingle painfully with his desire to face up to the truth. . . . It’s the poignancy of a child coming to terms with the irreversible losses and ill-judged compromises of adult life that gives emotional weight to the narrative.”—Claire Fallon, The Huffington Post
Casebook is both a detective story and a coming-of-age novel—a hybrid of Harriet the Spy and Chandler’s Phillip Marlow books.”—Darcy Steinke, The Los Angeles Times

“If Casebook were a box of cereal, there would be dozens of raisins in every spoonful. Yes, the novel itself has a satisfying arc, but I love it most for the small rewards and humorous touches that Simpson doles out on nearly every page.”—Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Any person who grew up in a family being slowly torn apart by their parents’ crumbling marriage will instantly relate to Miles Adler-Rich’s attempt to understand why things are falling apart. Casebook will even find a way to sink its hooks into readers who haven’t had to experience that.”—Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

Advance Praise for Mona Simpson’s CASEBOOK
“Ensnaring, witty, and perceptive . . . This exceptionally incisive, fine–tuned and charming novel unfolds gracefully as [Simpson] brings fresh understanding and keen humor to the complexities intrinsic to each stage of life and love.”––Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“This is a story about a son’s love for his mother, and Simpson’s portrayal of utter loyalty is infectious.”––Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The setup is ingenious . . . A child of divorce turns private-eye in the latest well-observed study of domestic dysfunction from Simpson . . . a top-shelf novelist . . . The new book is framed as a detective story about discovering the deceptions that can swirl around relationships.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In this sensitively rendered bildungsroman, Simpson recalls authentic, detailed memories of childhood . . . [A] clever, insightful, and at times hilarious story about family, friendship, and love in all its complex iterations.”––Library Journal

Library Journal
Having won honors ranging from a Whiting Writer's Award to an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts, the beloved Simpson shows up with a young protagonist named Miles Adler-Rich, who's compelled by the recent separation of his parents to spy on them with the help of friend Hector. The boys are particularly intrigued by Miles's mother ("pretty for a mathematician"), rifling through her diary and dresser drawers and finding evidence that puts them on the trail of a mysterious stranger. The scary secrets they learn give the boys their first real lesson in good and evil.
Kirkus Reviews
A child of divorce turns private eye in the latest well-observed study of domestic dysfunction from Simpson (My Hollywood, 2010, etc.). In some ways, Simpson's sixth novel marks a return to her first, Anywhere But Here (1986), which also features a teenage narrator struggling to comprehend a parental split. But the new book is more high concept, framed as a detective story about discovering the deceptions that can swirl around relationships. The narrator, Miles, is a bright LA high schooler who's prone to precocious antics like a money-making scheme selling lunches out of his locker. He's also picked up a more questionable eavesdropping habit, listening in on his mathematician mother's phone conversations after her marriage collapses and she pursues a new relationship with Eli, whose intentions and background strike Miles as questionable. With his friend Hector, he processes his confusion both artistically (via a comic book they create together) and pragmatically, befriending a PI who helps them get to the bottom of Eli's background. The setup is ingenious on a couple of fronts. First, making the tale a mystery adds a dose of drama to what's otherwise a stock plot about upper-middle-class divorce. Second, Miles' snapping to the role of secret eavesdropper and researcher underscores how alienated he is from his mother's confusion and heartbreak. Simpson presents Miles' tale as slightly comic; this is a story of teenage misadventures, after all. But as the truth about Eli emerges and Miles gets wise to reality, she shifts into a more serious register. "Everyone had secrets, I understood, now that I did," Miles explains. "With that one revelation, the world multiplied." Simpson's attempts to add a metafictional touch via Hector's footnote comments feel half-finished, but overall her command of the story is rock-solid. A clever twist on a shopworn theme by a top-shelf novelist.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

1 ​• ​Under the Bed

I was a snoop, but a peculiar kind. I only discovered what I most didn’t want to know.

The first time it happened, I was nine. I’d snaked underneath my parents’ bed when the room was empty to rig up a walkie-talkie. Then they strolled in and flopped down. So I was stuck. Under their bed. Until they got up.

I’d wanted to eavesdrop on her, not them. She decided my life. Just then, the moms were debating weeknight television. I needed, I believed I absolutely needed to understand Survivor. You had to, to talk to people at school. The moms yakked about it for hours in serious voices. The only thing I liked that my mother approved of that year was chess. And every other kid, every single other kid in fourth grade, owned a Game Boy. I thought maybe Charlie’s mom could talk sense to her. She listened to Charlie’s mom.

On top of the bed, my dad was saying that he didn’t think of her that way anymore either. What way? And why either? I could hardly breathe. The box spring made a gauzy opening to gray dust towers, in globular, fantastic formations. The sound of dribbling somewhere came in through open windows. My dad stood and locked the door from inside, shoving a chair up under the knob. Before, when he did that, I’d always been on the other side. Where I belonged. And it hurt not to move.

“Down,” my mother said. “Left.” Which meant he was rubbing her back.

All my life, I’d been aware of him wanting something from her. And of her going sideways in his spotlight, a deer at the sight of a human. The three of us, the originals, were together locked in a room.

My mom was nice enough looking, for a smart woman. “Pretty for a mathematician,” I’d heard her once say about herself, with an air of apology. Small, with glasses, she was the kind of person you didn’t notice. I’d seen pictures, though, of her holding me as a baby. Then, her hair fell over her cheek and she’d been pretty. My dad was always handsome. Simon’s mom, a jealous type, said that my mother had the best husband, the best job, the best everything. I thought she had the best everything, too. We did. But Simon’s mom never said my mother had the best son.

The bed went quiet and it seemed then that both my parents were falling asleep. My dad napped weekends.

NOOO, I begged telepathically, my left leg pinned and needled.

Plus I really had to pee.

But my mother, never one to let something go when she could pick it apart, asked if he was attracted to other people. He said he hadn’t ever been, but lately, for the first time, he felt aware of opportunities. He used that word.

“Like who?”

I bit the inside of my cheek. I knew my dad: he was about to blab and I couldn’t stop him. And sure enough, idiotically, he named a name. By second grade everyone I knew had understood never to name a name.

“Holland Emerson,” he said. What kind of name was that? Was she Dutch?

“Oh,” the Mims said. “You’ve always kind of liked her.”

“I guess so,” he said, as if he hadn’t thought of it until she told him.

Then the mattress dipped, like a whale, to squash me, and I scooched over to the other side as the undulation rolled.

“I didn’t do anything, Reen!”

She got up. Then I heard him follow her out of the room.

“I’m not going to do anything! You know me!”

But he’d started it. He’d said opportunities. He’d named a name. I bellied out, skidded to the bathroom, missing the toilet by a blurt. A framed picture of them taken after he’d proposed hung on the wall; her holding the four-inch diamond ring from the party-supply shop. On the silvery photograph, he’d written I promise to always make you unhappy.

I’d grown up with his jokes.

By the time I sluffed to the kitchen he sat eating a bowl of Special K. He lifted the box. “Want some?”

“Don’t fill up.” She stood next to the wall phone. “We’re having the Audreys for dinner.”

“Tonight?” he said. “Can we cancel? I think I’m coming down with something.”

“We canceled them twice already.”

The doorbell rang. It was the dork guy who came to run whenever she called him. He worked for the National Science Foundation and liked to run and talk about pattern formation.

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