Marcy Dermansky’s saucy and enticing novel, VERY NICE, is a tangled web of longing, lazing, and attempted adulting. With five narrators, none of which fits the traditional mold of likeable or hero, the plot moves forward with passionate detail and disparate loyalties. The novel is marketed as a “beach read,” but its complex themes and deeply developed characters demand a wider definition and year-round attention. VERY NICE’s satirical take on tony suburbs and trudging academia is at once harsh and appreciative, and readers will find some empathy for even the most difficult characters.
Each of the main characters is connected, although most don’t realize how closely. As they orbit one another, slowly spiraling to a sudden, inevitable climax, the reader learns to forgive characters’ first impressions and their various uncomfortably relatable faults. What Dermansky manages to do throughout the novel is present choices for her characters and allow them to choose poorly while avoiding caricature and farce.
Rachel, who opens and closes the novel, is a college student who has sex with her college professor, Zahid, and then takes his dog home to her mother in a seaside Connecticut suburb. Her mother, Becca, needs companionship because her own dog has died and her husband has left her for another woman. It seems that the dog’s death has had more of an impact on Becca’s emotional well-being. Jonathan, the husband, is living what he thinks is his best life in Manhattan, but trying to reconnect with his daughter is awkward. And Khloe, one of Jonathan’s employees and the twin sister of Zahid’s best friend ties all the threads together with a bemused appreciation for the drama. Beach read? Sure. And an everywhere else read, too.
The push and pull of affection, the lure of easy living, the fear of failure, and the complicated relationships we develop create an irresistible and dramatic storyline for Dermansky’s main characters. The more readers get to know each character, the more vulnerabilities appear, and the more readers will recognize themselves and those around them. Also woven into the emotional drama are details that touch on politics, coming-of-age, race, gender, and sexual identity, and more that help the novel feel at once timely and relatable.
VERY NICE comes out July 2nd, and it will do very nicely as a beach companion. However, many readers will want to give it a second read wherever they happen to be.