Like any Jewish story worth the salt that Lot’s wife became, it’s admirably and quite beautifully rooted in 20th-century history — and yet, at the same time, it largely steers clear of the politics that, from one angle or another, drag down so many contemporary novels ... Ball’s story swivels its spotlight from one twisted character and association to another. She works hard to render each with sensitivity and respect, a dedication that also makes her fabulously unafraid to mark her characters with signs of psychosis and brutality ... The humor here is finely wrought and often provides satisfying relief from the characters’ struggles, but it is not in fact one of the book’s overriding features. Rather, emotional insight is clearly the currency that matters most to Ball ... Unfortunately, not everything in What to Do About the Solomons works equally well. Some plot threads are too short, others too long ... Despite their collective penchant for psychodrama, there’s something profoundly lovely — and loving — about the Solomons. And about Bethany Ball’s debut.
Ball switches points of view for a mosaic of family members and associates in crisis and adrift. Her terse, sharp-edged prose captures settings ranging from an American jail where highest bail is king to a French military post where they haven’t won a war since Napoleon, but they sure know how to live. For all its humor, penetrating disillusionment underlies Ball’s memorable portrait of a family, once driven by pioneer spirit, now plagued by overextension and loss of direction, unsure what to do with its legacy, teetering between resentment, remorse, and resilience.
Ball’s prose is compulsively readable, almost addictive, and she has a wicked sense of humor. But the novel doesn’t quite add up: by the time you’ve met all the characters, the book is already ending, and nothing seems to have been resolved. Humor can’t quite save this appealing novel that ends before it’s fully begun.