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THE CURIOUS CASE OF MARY ANN

An inventive combination of fresh storytelling and an adored classic.

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A housemaid—a minor character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—investigates the mystery of her father’s murder in this fantasy novel.

Among the fanciful events in Alice, the White Rabbit mistakes the title character at one point for Mary Ann, apparently his housemaid. In this imaginative take, Thorson (Tryfling Matters, 2015, etc.) tells a Wonderland story from Mary Ann’s point of view. Her fussy employer wants to give Queen Valentina the perfect Unbirthday present, so Mary Ann suggests that her father, Rowan Carpenter, a talented woodworker, could make one. She and Rowan aren’t close—he believes children should be both useful and far away—but she travels to collect the gift, a mirror with a carved frame. On arrival at her father’s house, she’s horrified to discover that someone in a red tunic is chopping off Rowan’s head. Mary Ann is determined to learn the truth and get justice for her father’s murder, so she finds incognito employment and starts investigating. She uncovers information about Rowan’s business partner, a walrus, and learns that the mirror is a magic portal. She also aids young Sir Rufus in slaying the Jabberwock (“Lots of people teach things about which they haven’t the slightest inkling”) and in searching for his lost sense of humor. Mary Ann will discover more than one shocking truth before she’s done, if she can hold onto her own head. Thorson has a brilliant idea in mixing the world of Alice with a murder mystery. The result is a demented but internally consistent detective story—the motive, means, and opportunity make sense. What’s more, although tackling a pastiche of a well-loved children’s book is a daunting task, Thorson succeeds beautifully. She deftly captures Carroll’s absurdity, wordplay, and unsettling strangeness and rings some changes of her own. Here’s Mary Ann getting housemaid instructions: “So start with the fireplaces. Then fluster the moldings, massage the brass, milk the jugs, tickle the ivory and when you’re quite done with that, report back and I’ll give you some real work to do.”

An inventive combination of fresh storytelling and an adored classic.

Pub Date: June 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9838045-8-1

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Waterhouse Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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