64 pages 2 hours read

Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Latecomer

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Latecomer is Jean Hanff Korelitz’s eighth novel, published in 2022 by Celadon Books. The story follows the Oppenheimers, a New York Jewish family, for nearly 25 years as they separate and come back together. Hanff Korelitz is also a playwright, essayist, and founder of BOOKTHEWRITER, which hosts “Pop-Up Book Groups” in private homes, featuring such authors at Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Strout. Other novels by Hanff Korelitz have been adapted to television and film, including her work, You Should Have Known, adapted by HBO into The Undoing, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Hanff Korelitz’s work is acclaimed for its deft plotting and richly drawn characters.

This study guide refers to the eBook edition of the novel, published in 2022 by Celadon Books.

Plot Summary

Salo Oppenheimer meets his future wife, Johanna, for the first time at his girlfriend Mandy’s funeral. Mandy was killed in a car accident, in which Salo was driving, and this event will shape the rest of his and his family’s lives. After the accident, Salo is lost but finds his passion again through modern art. He begins collecting art, mainly Abstract Expressionism, and this reconnects him to Stella, another woman who had been in the car the night Mandy died. Salo falls in love with Stella, and they begin a long-term affair, giving birth to a son, Ephraim, together.

Salo marries Johanna, knowing that he does not love her, and she devotes her life to helping him heal and making a family. Although they have difficulty getting pregnant, Johanna gives birth to triplets, and keeps one extra embryo frozen, just in case. Much later, Johanna and Salo will give birth to Phoebe, their fourth child, through a surrogate. Sally, one of the triplets, is the only family member who knows about Stella, having discovered the affair during high school; however, she keeps this knowledge a secret for years.

As the triplets grow up, they show no affinity to each other, regardless of how hard Johanna works to create relationships between them. When they are old enough to leave for college, the triplets all go their own way. Harrison attends Roarke, in New Hampshire, and although Sally and Lewyn both attend Cornell, they tell no one they have siblings and live completely independent lives. Like Salo, Sally finds a passion for art and begins a career with antique furniture. Harrison finds friendship and belonging with fellow Roarke student Eli Absalom Stone and becomes a member of the far-right conservative movement. Lewyn falls in love with a woman named Rochelle, but their relationship is short-lived.

Rochelle, as it turns out, is Sally’s roommate at Cornell, but she does not know that Lewyn and Sally are related. Lewyn goes along with this lie, but when Sally finds out that they are dating, she decides to reveal the truth to Rochelle. Sally’s anger with Lewyn and Rochelle is complicated by her own love for Rochelle and her struggle to accept her sexual orientation. She invites Rochelle to the annual birthday celebration for the triplets, at the family’s house on Martha’s Vineyard.

The night of the celebration, the family is in disarray when Rochelle sees Lewyn and understands the depth of his deception and Sally’s callous behavior. The night becomes worse still when Harrison reveals Sally’s orientation to her parents, and Salo tells Johanna that he is leaving her for Stella. By the end of the night, the family has been shattered. Sally leaves first thing in the morning on the ferry, and Salo leaves not long after to fly to New York. However, the rest of the family remain on the island as Salo’s plane, a commuter flight from Boston to New York, is hijacked by terrorists as part of the September 11 attack, and he dies.

For years, the family maintains only the most superficial connection. Lewyn moves home to Brooklyn Heights and lives with Phoebe, their younger sister, and Johanna, who has withdrawn from the world and the family. He takes over the curation of Salo’s art collection and helps to raise his sister. When Phoebe is old enough, she begins questioning why her family is the way it is, leading her to visit each of her siblings in turn. With each visit, she learns more about the painful and complicated history of the family and determines to bring it back together.

By the end of her efforts, she has reconnected with Rochelle as well, and has discovered the truth about Stella and Ephraim. After she has reconciled everyone, including Rochelle, Stella, and Ephraim, Phoebe pulls the family together to attend one more family celebration at Martha’s Vineyard. In this case, the occasion is Lewyn and Rochelle’s wedding, held on the anniversary of Salo’s death. With this event, the family has come full circle, turning tragedy into celebration.

Related Titles

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Jean Hanff Korelitz
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Study Guide
Jean Hanff Korelitz
Guide cover image