The Limits

Nell Freudenberger's fourth novel, The Limits, is a clear-eyed exploration of loss, love, and the difficulty (and hope) inherent in human connection, set during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Freudenberg (Lost and Wanted) centers her narrative on former spouses Nathalie and Stephen, still bound by their teenage daughter, Pia, and their history together. Marine biologist Nathalie is stationed on Mo'orea, studying the delicate ecosystems of coral reefs. Her cardiologist ex-husband, Stephen, in locked-down Manhattan, must balance his increasingly demanding work with his worry for his newly pregnant wife, Kate. Meanwhile, Pia has returned, under duress, from Mo'orea to New York to live with Stephen. Pia's parents hope that interaction with other young people will help her cope, and Nathalie wants to distance her daughter from a crush on an older man. Freudenberger tells her story from their perspectives, plus those of Kate, a teacher struggling with remote education and the realities of a pandemic pregnancy, and Athyna, one of Kate's brightest students, whose anxiety and familial challenges threaten to derail her hopes for college.

Freudenberger's characters love and fight and despair and act out, dealing with daily frustrations while trying to weather a circumstance none of them ever imagined. She touches on case numbers, racial protests, and political furor, but the novel's heart lies in its characters' sharply drawn inner lives and their relationships with one another, as fragile and finely attuned to their environment as the corals Nathalie studies. 

Sensitive, luminous, and sometimes wryly funny, The Limits is a nuanced portrait of the difficult, worthwhile work of connecting with others--even during a global disaster. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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