Julia Swann, mother of two young boys, is on the phone with her husband, Michael, when the call abruptly cuts out. It isn’t until later in the evening when she discovers that something terrible has happened at Penn Station, where Michael was waiting for a train home.
Julia races to New York City to look for Michael, her panicked searching interwoven with memories of meeting and falling in love with the husband she’s now desperate to find. When someone finds a flyer she’s posted and tells her they may have seen her husband, her prayers seem to be answered. Yet as she tries to find him, her calls go unanswered. Did Michael survive? If so, why hasn’t he contacted her? Was he—or is he still—the man she fell in love with?
Part family drama, part tragic love story, The Real Michael Swann is a deftly plotted suspense novel with an unflinching portrait of a marriage at its heart, challenging us to confront the unthinkable—both in our country and in our own homes.
“Reardon masterfully delivers an intimate, heartbreaking portrayal of a family whose love, trust, and loyalty for each other is put to the ultimate test.”—Rhiannon Navin, author of Only Child
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
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Excerpted from "The Real Michael Swann"
Copyright © 2018 Bryan Reardon.
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Reading Group Guide
1.) Describe the progression of Michael and Julia’s marriage. How compatible were they in the beginning versus during the events of the book? How did their personalities develop as they journeyed through marriage?
2.) When Julia lies to her children by pretending to speak to Michael on the phone, it is an earth-shattering moment for her. Explain her decision to do so and whether the aftermath was justified.
3.) What do you think of Julia’s ambitions when she was younger versus her decision to become a stay-at-home mom? How do you feel about her actions? What would you have done in her place, anything similar or different?
4.) Julia defines trust as: “It was the moment they fell in love. But there was something else, too. Something that bound him to her even more deeply. As they came together as one, both before and after, she remembered this feeling. It was like the world around her shrunk. The night pushed away. She felt so safe, but it was something more. Years later, after their two kids were born, she put a word to it. She never quite knew if it was exactly right or not. But the word was trust.” How do you define trust? What do you think of Julia’s definition?
5.) Julia goes through an incredibly harrowing experience, and at first, it seems like her friends are supportive. How did you feel about their behavior toward her? Was it realistic? Have you ever had life experiences that tested your friendships?
6.) From the threat of terrorism to layoffs and job losses, how do you think The Real Michael Swann addresses the state of American life today?
7.) How did the beginning of the novel shape your expectations for the ending? What surprised you most?
8.) Julia goes from watching the news to being the news, which exacerbates her feelings of self-doubt and anxiety. How do the news reports affect Julia’s behavior? How do you think our relationship to the media changes our perception of current events?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is a story of a husband and wife fighting through the trials of living. Lost jobs, financial hardships, and settling in a job and life not meeting their dreams. When an unspeakable bombing happens, how quickly people will turn on someone when accused. Ultimately, it’s a story that reminds us of giving into hate, fear, and the negative climate our world has developed into, and what can happen. Can one person start a trend that focuses on the positive and help society overcome this downward trend.
A Terrorist Attack Disrupts a Love Story Julia and Michael love each other are loving parents to their two boys. Although both were career oriented: Julia with a government job; Michael working in baseball; they moved to a community in Pennsylvania that they believed would be a good place to raise a family. The move meant Julia had to give up her job and Michael had to find a new career, but they felt it was worth it because of the boys. They’ve had their problems, but Julia believes in the strength of their family. It’s a beautiful day. The neighbors are getting together to watch the children and enjoy adult conversation when suddenly Julia’s world changes. She’s on the phone with Michael, who’s in Penn Station, returning from a job interview when suddenly the phone goes dead. There’s been an explosion in Penn Station. Julia is frantic, she wants to take care of the boys, but she also wants to find Michael. Julia’s plight grabs you in the first pages and the tension never lets up. She loves Michael, but as the story unfolds, she questions whether she ever knew the person she was living with. The bombing and the political implications are timely. The book doesn’t hide the undercurrents that separate people on the political spectrum. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, this book is worth reading. It will make you think. I received this book from Dutton for this review.
The Real Michael Swann – Bryan Reardon I was fortunate to receive this novel as an Advance Reader Copy, in exchange for an objective review. It’s an idyllic summer day in a suburban neighborhood, and Julia Swann is home with her children and a couple of her close neighbors are with her. Her husband it commuting from NY City, and they share a couple of innocuous phone calls as he attempts to get home. But there’s been a brush fire and the commuter trains have been stopped. During a third call to his wife, Michael Swann vents his frustration, only to have the call suddenly drop without warning. Despite the relative normalcy of a dropped call, Julia is very unsettled and inexplicably frightened. Shortly thereafter the news comes out – a bomb has been detonated at Penn Station – hundreds dead, hundreds more injured, and Julia has no word on Michael’s whereabouts. Frantic with worry, she attempts to approach the scene, only to be turned around by police. As she waits for news, she remembers different aspects of their many years together, reliving the night they first met, along with other milestones throughout their marriage. Meanwhile, a man survives the explosion and staggers out of the wreckage of Penn Station, still clutching his briefcase. But he has no memory of whom he is, or where he’s from. As he finds his way to safety, his thoughts are shared with readers as well. But now, for reasons unknown, law enforcement have set their sights on Michael Swann as a possible conspirator. As Julia struggles to find news of her missing husband, and an unknown man struggles to learn his identity, this book carries you off into a tremendous journey, full of fear, love, betrayal, bewilderment and ultimately hope. I was staggered by the last several pages of the novel – in fact my assumptions were so wrong, I had to go back and start from the beginning - and so many questions remain! A fabulous, edge-of-your-seat read!
A combination love story and twisty thriller, The Real Michael Swann ventures into the dark side of humanity. Cleverly plotted the novel alternates between the two main characters and between the present day and flashbacks of the past. There’s a palpable sense of love and loss throughout the entire book. Towards the end of the story, one of the characters shares some meaningful insight into fear and hate that is ever so relevant to the times. I’ve thought about this one a lot ever since I turned the last page. In a word, haunting.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Michael and Julia Swann seem to have it all as the saying goes. He has a good job as a salesman and she left her government job to be a stay-at-home mom to their two sons, Evan and Thomas. However, Michael ends up losing his job. After a job interview in New York City when he is getting ready to return home, an explosion occurs in Penn Central. From that point on, this book is a gripping, twisting, suspenseful thriller that is an addicting page-turner until the shocking twist of an ending. Once I started reading this book, I did not want to stop and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great suspenseful thriller.