The hilarious opening of Almost does little to prepare either the reader or the narrator, Sophy Chase, for the drama of what is to come. Almost divorced, Sophy is in bed with her new lover — an art dealer and father of four young children — when the police call her with shocking news. Her almost ex-husband, Will, has died suddenly on the Massachusetts island where she left him just months before. Dazed and grief-stricken, Sophy takes off at once for Swansea Island, hurled back into a life and family—her husband's grown twin daughters and their prickly mother—she had intended to leave behind. In the tension-filled days that follow, Sophy's past and present collide as she struggles to find out how her husband died, what role she might have had in the sudden disappearance of her boyfriend's ten-year-old daughter, and how she can maintain her equilibrium. The gulf between the island's summer people and its year-rounders is brought vividly to life in the process, as is the particular beauty of a setting that resembles Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. A story about starting over and looking back, about the pain of staying and the consequences of leaving, and about a woman's longing for children, Almost presses us to wonder how much responsibility we bear for other people's happiness—and who exactly we are when we're in limbo. By this riveting novel's end, Sophy has it all figured out—almost.
If your book club is reading Almost, a READER'S GUIDE is available at Houghton Mifflin Books.
Almost was chosen as one of the best novels of the year by:
- The New York Times Book Review
- Newsweek's top 10 novels of 2001 (on-line edition)
- The Washington Post
- Fresh Air on NPR
"This is a beautifully written, fiercely intelligent novel."
"Acid humor and piercing insight mark this novel about death, divorce,
exes, lovers and surrogate children on and off a snototy East Coast island.
Benedict materfully follows each small drama with a satisfying, emotional
release. The effect is page-turning suspense that doesn't skimp on
characterization or intelligence. Such versatility makes it equally
suitable for a day at the beach or a few concentrated hours in a more sober
"Benedict's writing is sharp and insightful, and her characters live and
"Benedict's quick-witted and beautifully crafted novel captures the
breakneck speed of NY as we follow the frenetic life of best-selling
novelist Sophy Chase...Well-developed characters and a compelling,
believable melodrama add up to perfect beach reading."
"Benedict's tragicomic fourth novel possesses deep emotional currents; the real mystery Sophy faces is no less compellingor complicatedthan the human heart." A-
Entertainment Weekly, October 12, 2001
"Almost is a fast-paced, funny, and splendidly intelligent drama. And what a varied, unforgettable cast of characters young, old, rich, poor, famous, unknown, all of them turned inside out by love and grief. I relished every page."
"Almost is a novel of amazing intimacy, written with clear-eyed
intelligence, precision, and wit."
Almost was reviewed on Fresh Air (NPR) by Maureen Corrigan on Sept. 18, 2001. These are excerpts from the transcript:
"You could see the Pentagon burning from my classroom windows the morning of September 11th. Since then, given the sights that we've all been witness to on our TV screens, it's been hard to concentrate, to read, to teach. Two days later, when my classes at Georgetown resumed, I stopped into the office of one of my colleagues, who's also a native New Yorker, to share the shock. I said to her, `All this makes what we do pretty irrelevant, doesn't it?' My colleague is wiser than I, so she replied, `No more irrelevant than it ever is. We're always teaching and learning within the shadow of our own mortality.'
"Her remark reminded me of something my father once told me about how on the destroyer Escort he served on during World War II, there was a makeshift library, spottily stocked with the classics and adventure stories. Distractions, sure, but basic nourishment for the mind and spirit as well. So it's with the recognition that books will have to be necessary cargo on our national voyage into the implausible that I offer you a book review. Fortunately, it's a review of a very fine novel.
Elizabeth Benedict's novel is called "Almost," and like many another emotionally profound and richly textured story, it sounds schematic when you try to summarize it. That's because the great life of this book arises out of Benedict's judicious and sometimes startling mastery of language. The casual dialogue here and the descriptions of the ordinary remind me of Raymond Carver's short stories and poems. Nothing phony, nothing literary, nothing done, at least so you'd notice, for effect.
Take that nothing of a title, "Almost." The little word echoes and grows more ominous sounding as you read and realize that it's the perfect way for Sophy Chase, the main character here, to diagnose herself and her life. The story opens on Sophy and her boyfriend, Daniel, having passionate sex in her New York apartment. At an orgasmic moment, the phone rings. It's a policeman from the Martha's Vineyard-type island of Swansea, where Sophy, until recently, used to live. He's breaking the news to her that her husband, Will, has been found dead in their house....
"Almost" is structured as an autobiographical novel. It's the novel Sophy writes about her life after she returns to New York and resolves to live more fully, more aware. Its prevailing tone, apart from Henderson's interjections, is melancholy, sober. Maybe that's why, despite the fact that it's a small story, a self-absorbed story, it's a story that also seems in measured accord with these solemn times."