The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller [6/10]

A novel of set-piece scenes involving two families with longstanding connections, plus flashbacks, “The Paper Palace” turns its pages effortlessly, with the author being particularly agile with hectic dialogue. I can’t fault the artful scenes. But the story—a woman having to choose between her longest-lived love and her equally loved husband—veers dangerously close to sentimental romance cliché. Even the nominally harrowing flashback scenes involving abuse seem artificially grafted onto a seemingly never-ending “will she, won’t she” seesaw. The central narrator, the alluring yet secretive Elle, is sharply drawn with the aid of a close-up present-tense first-person voice, but the two male characters remain constructs. Elle’s mother is a crucial secondary character but never cohered to me. All up, The Paper Palace is a sprightly read that many readers may enjoy, but, at least to this reviewer, is quickly forgotten.

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