A single moment

The Children Act

Ian McEwan's latest novel, The Children Act (Nan A. Talese, $25), takes us inside the midlife crisis of a British judge to examine the profound effect that one conversation or one thoughtless gesture may have on the life of another person. Fiona is a family court judge with a notable history of sound opinions and rigorous application of the Children Act, which mandates that the judge stand for the best interests of minors in all cases. Then, her husband announces that he wants an “open marriage.” The fallout leads Fiona to re-examine her entire life in new light. Also weighing heavily on her is the case she's trying, that of a bright, teenaged Jehovah's Witness with leukemia who, along with his parents, is refusing blood transfusions on religious grounds. Fiona is, for the most part, restrained and very good at setting boundaries—but one momentary lapse has reverberating consequences.