May Books
Credit: Henry Holt and Company

Three women, connected across millennia: Esther, fabled consort to the king of ancient Persia; Vivian, a young senator’s wife caught up in the whirl of Nixon-era Washington, D.C.; and Lily, frazzled archetype of modern-day Brooklyn motherhood.

Each one takes up roughly equal space in Anna Solomon’s deftly interwoven round-robin of a novel, their stories both compulsively readable and thrumming with deeper cultural themes. At 29, Vivian (or Vee, as she’s called) is conspicuously childless for her era, and in no rush to change that — one of many facts her husband hardly knows about her when he asks her one evening for a humiliating favor to help shore up his reelection.

Neither of them is prepared for what comes next when she denies him; though readers of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament might recognize the outlines, because it’s the story of Esther’s predecessor, too: Queen Vashti, whose own refusal to obey the king paved her replacement’s way. Born a low-caste Jew in the desert camps outside the castle walls, Esther is an unlikely royal, elevated by her exceptional beauty and improbable luck. But palace life doesn’t bring the kind of power she hoped for to save her increasingly endangered people, let alone her own small freedoms.

The problems faced by stay-at-home mom Lily, with her unfinished laundry and middle-age ennui, are hardly the stuff of presidents and empires. Still, it’s her frank, self-deprecating voice that often anchors Book of V. as it toggles back and forth through time — an easy presumption to make, maybe, of the novel’s most contemporary character.

Much like Michael Cunningham did in The Hours, though, Solomon (Leaving Lucy Pear) has the gift of making you sad to leave each protagonist as her respective chapters end, before plunging happily into the next. Like Cunningham, too, she manages a great novelistic trick: blending real history and radical fiction into one enthralling whole. A–

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