Liese O’Halloran Schwarz went epic with this 2021 novel, spanning the decades and two continents. It pivots between the seventies and 2019, and between the Washington D.C. area and Bangkok, Thailand. Not surprisingly, the author grew up in D.C. with a childhood overseas. This is her third book, but she is also a medical doctor! What Could Be Saved is the story of a wealthy family of American expats living abroad in the Thailand of the seventies: a hectic, nonstop city, feeling the American presence in Vietnam, the refugee crises of its neighbors, and the tension between rural poverty and the lure of the city. While the Prestons seem buffered by their wealth and lifestyle, this illusion is toppled when the young son, Phillip, goes missing. A mystery that lasts decades ensues.

Jennifer: I liked this book; I didn’t love it. How’s that for getting to the point? I think there’s more good to say about it than bad. I was fully interested the whole time. The mystery hooked me. The details were authentic. And I think fondly of this book as I took hour-long walks in a forest-y neighborhood in Payson, Arizona while listening to the very good narrators.

Nonetheless, my book-meter settles on the “like” point — not the “love” spot. You?

Lara: I would agree. It’s a good book, and she tackles a lot of subjects/themes and a lot of characters. She’s also a strong writer. At times, though, it felt like too much.

Jennifer: What do you mean?

Lara: Like she was trying to pack in too many stories, characters, and plotlines.

Jennifer: While I don’t think it’s uber-comparable, I am thinking about the hungry way I ate up Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. I just didn’t have that racing-till-the end mindset.

Lara: I get that. I enjoyed it as I listened to it and some plotlines had me hungry but, as a whole, I think it’s too hard to be covering the number of storylines she was addressing at the same fever-pitch level.

Jennifer: There are a lot of interesting directions and plotlines—including the American presence in Asia, a bit of spy stuff, a whiff of commentary on Art and also the women’s movement, the sex trade, meditation. . . Did this seem to all fit? Were they significant? As I listed them, I realized that there were a lot of intricacies here. I think they really did work.

Lara: They did work, to a degree. But I think we could have shaved one or two of them. Honestly, I could have had a completely separate book on the mother, her complicated marriage and her relationship with her servants. That was fascinating and complicated and she was perfectly flawed. And, of course the storyline of young Phillip going missing while they are living in Bangkok was unnerving and I wanted to know more.

Jennifer: Schwarz writes the following:

“She’d been living so long with an illusion, that they’d been whole and happy once, a perfect family shattered by tragedy. All her life mourning that loss. When instead they had been more like bits in a kaleidoscope, falling randomly to make small areas of beauty, falling apart again with the next twist, into a new disorder and a new beauty. Perhaps everyone was that way, living their lives out in the clung clump of color in which they found themselves, never seeing the bigger picture and how it all fit.”

Did it all fit? Was this a satisfying mystery?

Lara: I love that passage and it’s ironic, because I think that Shwarz tried to have the reader see the bigger picture. She had us at a 30,000 foot view over the Prestons, their servants, their business partners, and societal connections, and it was hard to take it all in. I don’t know that we ever have the vantage point of seeing the whole picture in our lives. Blind spots are a necessary evil. And, funnily enough, blind spots are what lead to a lot of the heartbreak of this novel.

So would you recommend it?

Jennifer: Why do I feel bad answering this? I don’t, actually, go hog-wild over a ton of books! I did recently recommend Amber Ruffin’s book! I did point out a Sting book to my friends who would be interested. Maybe I do recommend books. But I’m particular. And I, myself, often take recommendations. This one? Sigh. Probably not. But, frankly, if you’re like you and I, Lara and Jennifer, and you read a lot, yeah, it’s a good one. If you only read a handful of books a year, pick something else.

Lara: I feel like my comments are discouraging others to pick it up, and I think it’s definitely worth reading. I also think I might have done better had I read this one – versus listening to it. I could have better tracked the complexities in the timeline and the characters.

Jennifer:  What else are you reading? I read a really absorbing memoir by Gina Frangello: Blow Your House Down. I’m wanting books to blow my house down these days—Frangello did. I couldn’t put it down. I recently finished John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and all I really secretly want to do is what he does in this book: travel around and write about it. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it was really good! Then, I did some fun audiobooks by Sting and Dolly Parton (separate audiobooks)—and they were mildly awesome. Right now, Shirley Jackson on Kindle and Ethan Hawke on audio. That’s weird to say.

Lara: Ooh, I want to read Blow Your House Down. After the year that was last year, I agree, we need books that blow our houses down or just keep us turning the pages. Since we last “met,” I read The Book of Speculationby Erika Swyler, The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, and Beach Readby Emily Henry. Of those, TJ Klune’s was my favorite. And, that’s shocking as it had elements of fantasy and magic — and despite that, I adored it.

Next Month!

We are still figuring out what to read next, so stay tuned! And in the meantime… happy reading, Snotties!


Can’t get enough of Snotty Literati? Follow us on Facebook!

Want to read more from Jennifer? Check her out at

Want to see what Lara is up to? Stay right here at