Readers will compare this novel to the books of Jonathan Franzen, and that comparison is right on. When A.M Homes offers a quote for Wolf at the Table, that’s enough for me, because I think she walks on water. However, the sales rep who pitched this to me (Brian Wraight) sold me. I think it was one sentence about how haunting it was, then the galley showed up. I’m a Franzen guy (not everything, but the lion’s share), we won’t debate that here, that’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla. With that out of the way, let me tell you what I really think.

I challenge you to read the first chapter of this book and put it down. You won’t. The chill that runs up your spine will be enough to keep you up at night. You will be haunted, even scared. The Larkin family is visited by so much drama, you’ll be turning pages to see what happens next. I’d not heard of Adam Rapp prior to reading this gem, and shame on me. I told complete strangers about this book, I shared my awe with anyone who’d listen, and prattled on about Alec, Lexi, Fiona, and Myra. I probably didn’t mention Joan, the handicapped sister that barely gets a page allotted to her, (she’s there for an emotional reason). I started circling pages numbers right away, underling sections, because this book is that good.

We start in the 1950’s upstate New York. Mom and Dad Larkin are strict churchgoers and run the family home like a covenant. As the clan emerges from childhood into young adults, leave home, and screw up. Fiona (my favorite) finds herself in a sex cult. Her chapters start funny, get serious, and she ends up as a savoir. I mention Fiona because her voice is electric. Ultimately, though, the book belongs to Alex and Myra. Rapp duels with the reader over which one is more fucked up. Myra is honest and salt of the earth, but it’s her downfall. Her decisions spark another set of decisions that you will gladly watch unfold. There is a generational skip that happens at a certain point that felt perfect and thrilling. Each sibling has the kind of emotional weight often seen on the big screen.

My favorite two spots are page 289: (From a killer Myra chapter, Denny is her significant other) “She could disappear, just as Denny did, six years ago. She could change her name and find a little carriage house and grow old and anonymous and unwitnessed.” Then on page 147, “Taking her virginity was as easy as unwrapping a birthday present.” Which comes from the mind of Alec, that bad brother. Come on! Come on! Like me, you will love to read about each Larkin child as their lives progress slowly or quickly at the hand of a writer who has mind-bending control over each voice. Their paths cross, or don’t; lies are told and truths shared.

It’s so hard to hold back what I know about this book, about Alec, about how I see Adam Rapp in this story, because of the letter he writes to the reader at the start of the book, you’ll get chicken skin. He’s a Playwright, filmmaker, and manages a prose flex that feels hard won. I dream to write fiction like this—heavy, smart, sad/funny. I’ve long wondered what the difference between showing and telling in fiction really means. Can you tell and not show? Or do all the showing as the telling. I tie myself in knots over this. Rapp manages both, he juggles awful behavior, (Alec) and saintly acts (Myra) while telling us what each of these characters are thinking. The story spans decades, lifetimes, deaths, marriages, children, and like Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta, I wished this story went on for another three hundred pages.