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In 2005, Joel Pearlman waits at Logan Airport with a sign reading Idzia: the name of the teenage daughter he’s never met. In 1986, Liesel Pearlman weeps on the couch with a negative pregnancy test in her hand. Debra Spark’s fourth novel, Unknown Caller, weaves together the stories of a brief, failed marriage and its complicated aftermath.
Leaping effortlessly across decades and continents, the novel follows Liesel, Joel, and Idzia over thirty years, through disappointments, frustrations, and misunderstandings. At different times, each of these characters is the unknown caller of the title: reaching out for help or simply for empathy, uncertain of the reception they will find. Although tied by history and blood, the characters struggle to find meaningful connections with each other.
Spark’s candid, intricate novel highlights the near-impossibility of truly knowing another person, the pain in failing relationships, and the joy in successful ones.