That book focused on a wealthy Manhattan couple who appeared to have it all, but found their security and happiness threatened by boredom and a need for adventure.
It's not the most sympathetic mix, perhaps, but the soapy allure of outrageously rich folk having far more problems than we lesser beings isn't offered up here, as his protagonists aren't quite that rich, their problems not quite so dramatic. But the US's literary landscape loves a dysfunctional middle-class family - witness Jonathan Franzen's success - and while Dee isn't exactly a poor man's Franzen, he is less complex and less psychologically enquiring. This latest work reinforces that impression, slipping into thriller territory, before ending in the kind of ambiguity that literary novels prefer.
Ben Armstead, a successful lawyer, and his stay-at-home wife Helen are comfortably-off with an adopted Chinese daughter, Sara, living in suburban Rensselaer Valley. But they have been attending marriage guidance in secret, where Ben confesses how bored he is. Shortly afterwards, he develops a crush on a young woman at work, tries to initiate an affair and ends up getting beaten badly by the young woman's boyfriend. She then sues him for sexual assault and that's it for him: his marriage ends, he is sacked and has to spend a short time in prison.
As if that's not speedy enough, Helen manages to get interviews for Manhattan jobs in a matter of days, despite not having had a job for years. A slightly seedy PR firm takes her on and immediately she finds she has a talent for it, simply by telling clients who have been caught out to "confess" their sins and apologise. Soon she is head-hunted by a major PR firm that has the same name, Malloy, as her childhood home. She and Sara move to the Upper West Side where, after some initial financial difficulties, she supports them both without Ben's help.
If this sounds rather implausible, that's possibly because plot and characterisation are being sacrificed to theme. Dee's overarching idea is repentance - people repent, honestly and with sincerity, and the world rewards them with forgiveness, which in most cases means a return to their previous earning power. This is a materialistic society that demands materialistic forgiveness: when Ben leaves prison he returns to the now-empty house he once shared with Sara and Helen. A sign of the world's forgiveness is that his daughter helps him furnish it again. The middle-class status quo is thus re-established.
Into this affluent family mix is thrown the figure of Hamilton Barth, a Hollywood superstar whom Helen knew as a boy and with whom she once "made out" as a teenager. She and Sara run into him (another implausible plotline), and when he goes AWOL after a night binging on drugs with a young woman who subsequently disappears, he calls Helen for help. Hamilton adds to a sense of the inauthenticity of life with his superstar world full of assistants he doesn't know and advisors who care only about themselves. Neatly, of course, it's also the inauthenticity of life that Helen is busy counteracting with her repentence advice to clients. Thus PR is the way to re-establish authenticity! I do believe Dee sees the joke in this (for all her PR skills, Helen cannot win over her daughter). But the tidiness of a plot sacrificed to themes never fully convinces, even if Dee does try to analyse a little more deeply, that middle-class stereotype, the midlife crisis.