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We Can Only Save Ourselves: A Novel (Hardcover)
I have been going through a phase after reading up on the NXIVM cult of suburbia-gone-wrong, stories about enigmatic sociopath men and the women who foil them, so this eerie suburban thriller caught my eye instantly.— Gracie
"Alison Wisdom's addictive, down-the-rabbit-hole debut reads like The Girls by way of The Virgin Suicides, with an extra dash of Cheever's unsettling suburbia. The result is sinister and surprising: a novel I couldn't put down, and one that I kept thinking about long after I'd reached its unexpected, chilling end." —Emily Temple, author of The Lightness
One of Newsweek, Bustle, and LitHub's Most Anticipated Books and Goodreads' "Debut Novels to Discover in 2021," We Can Only Save Ourselves is the story of one teenage girl’s unlikely indoctrination and the reverberations in the tight-knit community she leaves behind.
Alice Lange’s neighbors are proud to know her—a high-achieving student, cheerleader, and all-around good citizen, she’s a perfect emblem of their sunny neighborhood. The night before she’s expected to be crowned Homecoming Queen, though, she commits an act of vandalism, then disappears, following a magnetic stranger named Wesley to a bungalow in another part of the state. There, he promises, Alice can be her true self, shedding the shackles of conformity.
At the bungalow, however, she learns that four other young women seeking enlightenment and adventure have already followed him there. Her new lifestyle is intoxicating at first, but as Wesley’s demands on all of them increase, the house becomes a pressure cooker—until one day they reach the point of no return.
Back home, the story of Alice’s disappearance and radicalization is framed by the first-person plural chorus of the mothers who knew her before, who worry about her, but also resent the tear she made in the fabric of their perfect world, one that exposes the question: Isn’t suburbia a kind of cult unto itself?
Combining the sharp social critique of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere with the elegiac beauty of Emma Cline’s The Girls, this is a fierce literary debut from a writer to watch.
About the Author
Born, raised, and based in Houston, Texas, Alison Wisdom has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, received a novel-writing grant from Wedgwood Circle, and was a finalist for this year’s Rona Jaffe Award. She has attended Tin House and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, where she was a finalist for the Emerging Writers Fellowship. Alison’s short stories have been published in Ploughshares, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Indiana Review, and more.
"A unique and haunting debut that smolders like the embers of an unattended fire."
— Newsweek, "2021's Most Highly Anticipated New Books"
"In this tense, complicated novel, the loss of a daughter is observed through the singular, haunting voice of the town’s mothers as they wage a daily battle for safety under the guise of conformity and belonging. What is the cost of leaving, and what is the cost of staying? There are no easy answers in this thrilling debut novel by Texas writer Alison Wisdom, whose taut, steely prose reveals new complexities, questions, and dangers with each turn of the page."
— Elizabeth Wetmore, New York Times bestselling author of Valentine
— Publishers Weekly
“Eerie and powerful. . . . the hypnotic storytelling and exploration of Alice’s character—and the character of Alice’s entire town—will draw readers in.”
“A dreamy debut. . . . Propulsive and haunting. . . . Wisdom hits each note with perfect precision.”
— Kirkus Reviews
"Alison Wisdom's addictive, down-the-rabbit-hole debut reads like The Girls by way of The Virgin Suicides, with an extra dash of Cheever's unsettling suburbia. The result is sinister and surprising: a novel I couldn't put down, and one that I kept thinking about long after I'd reached its unexpected, chilling end."
— Emily Temple, author of The Lightness
"In her beguiling debut, Alison Wisdom exposes the menace concealed just beneath the surface of the ordinary. When Alice Lange falls off the map, abandoning her status as a beloved it-girl in her suburban enclave to pursue a mysterious stranger, I fell right with her. A story of mothers and daughters, the competing allures of safety and danger, and the volatility of early adulthood, this is a spellbinding novel that followed me into my days."
— Alexis Schaitkin, author of Saint X
"This is a melancholy, dreamlike book about group dynamics, power, growing up, and the choices people can't take back. Alison Wisdom gives her haunting story a quiet but inexorable forward momentum—like that of adolescence itself."
— Lydia Kiesling, author of Golden State
“Beautiful and wry, We Can Only Save Ourselves is the story of a teenager who breaks free from the confines of her suburban home to try to find a more authentic way of living. I wanted to look away as the novel spun toward an ominous conclusion, but I couldn’t stop reading. A haunting and immersive debut with echoes of Tom Perrotta’s Little Children and Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides.”
— Kate Hope Day, author of If, Then and In the Quick
"Alison Wisdom’s clear-eyed debut lulls you into a tenuous comfort, only to jump out when least expected. The collective narration flawlessly juggles youthful idealism and hardened maturity, marking the decisions women make—both deliberate and coerced—and their struggle to break free from societies determined to stifle their freedom to choose. Insidiously haunting, subtly clever, and impossible to put down."
— Julia Fine, author of What Should be Wild
"A haunting, beautifully written story of a girl falling into darkness. Alison Wisdom renders a fascinating portrayal of the subtle shifts in tension, power, and affection among the young women who follow a Manson-esque cult leader. With the propulsion of a page-turner and the detail of a psychological study, We Can Only Save Ourselves is a stark and captivating novel. "
— Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters