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"What Could Be Saved," | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

“The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children” could be the theme of “What Could Be Saved,” a gripping novel by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz about family secrets and lives lived in pain and regret.

It’s 2019, and Washington D.C. artist Laura Preston, a painter, is creatively blocked. Her personal life is on hold too; Laura refuses to accept a proposal from her longtime, live-in lover. Her older sister hasn’t had an issue with commitment. Beatrice is a long married with two sons. The sisters aren’t really close, but they cooperate in caring for their mother Genevieve who has dementia. Their Brit father Robert died some years hence.

The Prestons had a son too, Philip, a mere boy when he disappeared in Bangkok, where the expat family lived in 1970s because of Robert’s job—his firm in charge of a project that was only supposed to take a year. That isn’t the case, which irritates Genevieve. She complains about the heat in Bangkok and regrets having to relinquish her social status in D.C., though the family has a lavish home, and a swimming pool. Genevieve also oversees a bevy of servants, whom she doesn’t treat kindly, replacing their Thai names with American ones and firing them for slight infractions.

Genevieve uses her skill at entertaining in Bangkok where she hosts lavish parties other Americans hope to be invited to. Instead of being available to her young children, Genevieve spends her time trying to impress others.

Of the three young Preston children, the one who suffers most profusely from Genevieve’s callousness and his father’s disregard, is Philip. And it’s the memory of Philip that haunts the family after the boy disappears a tragedy that drives a wedge so deep in the family a chasm forms that can’t be breached. Or can it? When Laura receives an email in 2019 from a woman claiming Philip is with her, Laura books a flight to Bangkok.

Slowly and with measured precision, Schwartz’s memorable story unfolds. “What Could Be Saved” is a literary gem with a gut-punch at the end that’s brilliant, prompting a reread to marvel at how the author fit the plot pieces into place, a feat Schwarz has accomplished with expertise.

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