The Exiles follows a plot structure that I’ve read before: young New York family, tired of living in the city, seeks greener pastures in a small town, only to have something horrible befall them in the small town. Through this horrible thing, they realize that New York might not have been the cause of all their problems. Nate and Emily have plenty of problems. Nate is estranged from his father, his only living relative, and his family history is full of tragedy. His relationship with Emily was a bright spot in his life, including the birth of their son, but the past few months he has been keeping something terrible from Emily and it directly affects their son. He doesn’t know how to come clean, so he’s been suffering from anxiety ever since his son’s birth. Emily is also keeping secrets from her husband and both are unsure how to bring these secrets out in the open.
In an effort to get rid of the biggest anxiety in their life, their financial problems, Emily and Nate decide to move to a small Rhode Island town, where they will start over. They will be able to afford a savings account, a house, everything. When they go to pick up the keys from their real estate agent, their car full with all their worldly possessions is stolen. Nate and Emily must navigate the holiday weekend with less than $100 and nothing but what they were carrying when the car was stolen.
The stolen car is only a catalyst. It gets Nate and Emily to share a hotel room for the weekend, three claustrophobic days where all of their secrets must eventually come to light. This is a story about people who make awful decisions for reasons they don’t understand. The characters can’t see how they got from point A to point B, how they went from a sane, normal person to making rash decisions that affect everyone around them.
I liked a lot of things about The Exiles. Nate and Emily, though you might not necessarily like them, are characters you sympathize with. They’ve simply been overwhelmed by life. They think it is New York that has changed them, has made them unable to live life as they should, but they did it to themselves.
The Exiles is a farce in the sense that the situations are all extreme: Nate’s secret, Emily’s secret, the stolen car, the unlikely appearance of a few characters that’s uncannily timed, the complete lack of consequences for anyone’s actions. So if The Exiles is a farce, what exactly is it exposing as ridiculous? The middle class aspirations of the 90s and early 2000s? We know that life for Nate and Emily is only going to get worse. They have no savings and the economy is about to come crashing down around them. The audience knows this, Nate and Emily even casually mention how much trouble they’d be in if anything went south. Perhaps it’s the idea of a perfect life: the small town, the nuclear family, the perfect cookie cutter house. It’s the American dream and it’s not going to make Nate and Emily happy. Only they can do that.
In the end, I guess I’m not sure what the point is, but I’m also not sure how much it matters. I liked The Exiles especially once I realized that nothing was quite as it seemed. If you only like your protagonists likeable, I’m sure you’ll dislike The Exiles. But if you like books where the morals are a little bit grayer and the outcomes a little bit less defined and clear, you’ll fall for this one just like I did, even though I wasn’t expecting to.
I received this book as a part of the TLC Book Tour. You can read more about this tour, including other stops on the tour, here.