Casebook: A novel

Casebook: A novel

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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.

This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Miles Adler prides himself on being a snoop, but after wiring a secret phone extension under the master bed, he overhears a conversation between his parents that turns his stomach. His perfect folks are soon to become a divorce statistic, and if Miles is to stay apprised of the situation, he has no choice but to continue spying. Monitoring his mom's emails is easy; keeping his overactive imagination in check is not, especially with best friend Hector goading him on. When Eli Lee starts dating mom and promising the moon, she's like a new woman, but even after five years Eli is suspiciously unable to commit. Miles and Hector won't rest until they suss out the truth about Eli, and issues of trust and perception are raised as the boys compile damning evidence against him. Readers will fall in love with Miles as he grows into manhood: from a precocious nine-year-old to a tender big brother to twin sisters to a chubby, angst-filled teen. VERDICT In this sensitively rendered bildungsroman, Simpson (My Hollywood) recalls authentic, detailed memories of childhood in writing this clever, insightful, and at times hilarious story about family, friendship, and love in all its complex iterations. A great choice for teens and adults to read together and discuss. [See Prepub Alert, 10/14/13.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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3 MB

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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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The Casebook 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story follows Miles from a young boy to a young man. It involves his relationship with his best friend and his family, but especially his Mother. It shows how deep his love is for her, how caring and protective he becomes. It is funny, sad and very moving. I highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish i could have given a rating of 2 1/2 stars. It wasn't a bad book , but it wasn't a good book. It took many, many pages before I really became interested in this novel, but because it was written by Mona Simpson, I stuck with it. In Casebook, Simpson details the life and observations of Miles, a twelve year old boy who is deeply invested in his mother's romantic life. . The story is told from his viewpoint and Simpson adeptly handles Miles progress and story telling abilities as he matures to a young man. There are a lot of characters to keep track off, some with nicknames that makes identifying them confusing. Often, a character is introduced but disappears for many pages, only to suddenly reappear without any connection to the story. Transitions from situation to situation are often abrupt and without logical progression; I had to reread or go back several pages to understand how the story and characters got to a certain point. Miles' mother was a completely unsympathetic character; a self-pitying, stubborn woman whose tunnel vision put her own romantic needs and desires ahead of her children. Her neglect and lack of concern for her young family was beyond my comprehension. Casebook was disappointing, and at times depressing, but Simpson's story telling prowess did show up often enough to make me hang in there. I am hesitant to recommend Casebook. but if you have the patience, you might want to give it a try........but borrow from the library! (If you want a wonderful book, get Simpson's first book, Anywhere But here. It is brilliant.)
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
As Mona Simpson's newest novel, Casebook opens, Miles is twelve years old when his parents separate. His mom, Irene (whom he calls the Mims) is a mathematician, not an occupation you find frequently in novels. His father Evan is a lawyer in the entertainment industry and they live in Los Angeles. He has younger twin sisters whom he calls Boop One and Boop Two. His best friend Hector's parents aren't together either. Hector has a bit of a crush on the Mims, and he is more than willing to help Miles figure out why Mims and Evans are separated and whether they are headed towards divorce. Miles has heard rumblings that Mims cheated on his dad, and to find out the truth he rigs up a phone extension so that he can listen to his mother's phone conversations. Mims soon begins dating Eli, who works for the National Service Foundation in Washington. Eli seems like a good guy, but he is in the midst of a divorce from his wife and he misses his young son. His mother recently died, and he has a brother who has mental health issues. Eli promises Mims that he will move out to Los Angeles and they will be a family, she just has to give him time. And more time. And more time. And then he has to take care of his dying cat, who seems to hang on forever. Miles and Hector become suspicious of Eli, so they seek out a private investigator, whose jobs usually consist of background checks on reality show contestants (Big Brother, The Bachelor), but there is something about these boys that gets to him, and he agrees to help them without pay. Casebook puts me in mind of Caroline Leavitt's recent novel Is This Tomorrow?. They both tell the story of a lonely young boy, who loves his mom very much, and takes on her problems. They both tell the story from the boy as an adult looking back on his life. And they both feature strong characterizations and beautiful writing. It took me awhile to get into Casebook, but about halfway in, I fell in love. Miles and Hector are such real, wonderful boys, trying to make sense of an adult world. Mims got to me too; she so wants this relationship with Eli to be the real deal. Simpson creates believable characters that you feel you know. Her description of Sare, one of Mims's friends is a good example."She was way cooler than my parents. Sare was a very smart person who never tried anything too hard for her. She had that confidence and that boredom." My only criticism of the book is that there are many characters, and at first it is difficult to keep track of who belonged to whom. And the fact that Miles had nicknames for his mom and sisters confused me when other characters called them by their given names. Miles and Hector write a comic book based partly on Eli, and I'm glad we get to see the results of their work. Hector also has footnotes in the book, giving his point of view on things that Miles has written about him, which adds a unique perspective. The ending is poignant, much like Is This Tomorrow?, and if you liked that novel, you will love Casebook, as I did. It's a beautiful coming-of-age story, sure to touch your heart.