In the Jewish religion the 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are known as the Days of Awe; they are a time of introspection and repentance. And "if you're lucky," Fox's protagonist Isabel Applebaum notes, "and you've introspected and repented enough, at the end of it your name gets inscribed in the Book of Life. Although neither of us believes that." "Neither" refers to Isabel and her childhood friend Mark, two people set adrift by the sudden death of Isabel's best friend, and Mark's wife, Josie.
"Days of Awe" returns to themes that readers of Lauren Fox's previous novels, "Still Life With Husband" and "Friends Like Us," will find familiar: friendship, the thorny landscape of marriage, the awkwardness of day-to-day life. Fox's earlier novels were about women in their 20s and 30s; her latest work explores the ever-shifting landscape of a woman in her 40s with the same sly humor and snappy dialogue that has made Fox one of my favorite novelists to recommend.
Isabel Applebaum is 43 and feeling "the mid" more than ever: Her 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, lingers between adolescence and the teen years; Isabel is separated from her husband but not yet divorced, and she is attracted to a man from her relationship group … sort of. "As I get older," she thinks, "my life simultaneously shrinks and grows, shedding delusions as it picks up complications."
Complications include Josie's death and its effect on Isabel's relationship with Mark, Hannah's inability to sleep through the night since Josie's accident and Isabel's mother's pervasive grief for the Holocaust. When Isabel's mother makes her attend a "Relationships in Transitions" meeting, Isabel meets Cal, an older man who has been separated from his wife for 10 years but just recently finalized his divorce.
Isabel makes a halfhearted attempt to feel something for Cal, but is often distracted by thoughts of Josie, her impulsivity and her eccentric paintings, and what effect, if any, Isabel could have had on Josie's fate.
"What if you make the right choices? What if you shelve those immature and solipsistic pursuits in favor of the grown-up occupations of family and career — happily, you do it without regret; in love; looking forward — and then those fall apart? You turn around and you're staring at the moonscape that used to be your life."
"Days of Awe" is an examination of grief and how one can move past it, or at least make it through each day without succumbing to its persistent demands.
Meganne Fabrega is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.