The Fourth Child
“A beautifully observed and thrillingly honest novel about the dark corners of family life and the long, complicated search for understanding and grace.” —Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation and Weather
“The Fourth Child is keen and beautiful and heartbreaking—an exploration of private guilt and unexpected obligation, of the intimate losses of power embedded in female adolescence, and of the fraught moments of glancing divinity that come with shouldering the burden of love.” —Jia Tolentino, New York Times bestselling author of Trick Mirror
The author of Break in Case of Emergency follows up her the “extraordinary debut” (The Guardian) with a moving novel about motherhood and marriage, adolescence and bodily autonomy, family and love, religion and sexuality, and the delicate balance between the purity of faith and the messy reality of life.
Book-smart, devoutly Catholic, and painfully unsure of herself, Jane becomes pregnant in high school; by her early twenties, she is raising three children in the suburbs of western New York State. In the fall of 1991, as her children are growing older and more independent, Jane is overcome by a spiritual and intellectual restlessness that leads her to become involved with a local pro-life group. Following the tenets of her beliefs, she also adopts a little girl from Eastern Europe. But Mirela is a difficult child. Deprived of a loving caregiver in infancy, she remains unattached to her new parents, no matter how much love Jane shows her. As Jane becomes consumed with chasing therapies that might help Mirela, her relationships with her family, especially her older daughter, Lauren, begin to fray.
Feeling estranged from her mother and unsettled in her new high school, Lauren begins to discover the power of her own burgeoning creativity and sexuality—a journey that both echoes and departs from her mother’s own adolescent experiences. But when Lauren is confronted with the limits of her youth and independence, Jane is thrown into an emotional crisis, forced to reconcile her principles and faith with her determination to keep her daughters safe. The Fourth Child is a piercing love story and a haunting portrayal of how love can shatter—or strengthen—our beliefs.
The Fourth Child - A Novel
By Jessica Winter
On Sale: March 9, 2021
Break in Case of Emergency
"If you need a New York map of our times, have Jessica Winter become your cartographer. Sassy, sarcastic and sleek, this is a wonderfully brash appraisal of how we live."
—Colum McCann, National Book Award–winning author of Let the Great World Spin
Jen has reached her early thirties and has all but abandoned a once-promising painting career when, spurred by the 2008 economic crisis, she takes a poorly defined job at a feminist nonprofit. The foundation’s ostensible aim is to empower women, but staffers spend all their time devising acronyms for imaginary programs, ruthlessly undermining one another, and stroking the ego of their boss, the larger-than-life celebrity philanthropist Leora Infinitas.
Jen’s complicity in this passive-aggressive hellscape only intensifies her feelings of inferiority compared to her two best friends—one a wealthy attorney with a picture-perfect family, the other a passionately committed artist—and so does Jen’s apparent inability to have a baby, a source of existential panic that begins to affect her marriage and her already precarious status at the office. As Break in Case of Emergency unfolds, a fateful art exhibition, a surreal boondoggle adventure in Belize, and a devastating personal loss conspire to force Jen to reckon with some hard truths about herself and the people she loves most.
Jessica Winter’s ferociously intelligent debut novel is a wry satire of celebrity do-goodism as well as an exploration of the difficulty of navigating friendships as they shift to accommodate marriage and family, and the unspoken tensions that can strain even the strongest bonds.
Jessica Winter is an editor at The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Bookforum, The Believer, and many other publications. She lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn, with her family.
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