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30 Most Anticipated Fiction Books for Fall

A moving, sad, and sometimes disarmingly funny take on migration and the forces that propel us into the world.

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DOMINICANA

Ana Canción is 15 when her parents marry her off to 32-year-old Juan Ruiz as part of a business arrangement, and she leaves her family farm in the Dominican Republic to move to New York City.

In this coming-to-America story, the harsh realities of immigration are laid bare, but equally clear are the resilience and resourcefulness of the people who choose to make a new life far from home. It’s the early 1960s, and there is tumult in the U.S. and abroad—the Vietnam War is raging, and the D.R. plunges into chaos when dictator Rafael Trujillo is assassinated. Author Cruz (Let It Rain Coffee, 2006, etc.) based the book on her own mother’s experiences, and Ana’s narration is wry and absorbing. Once Ana has arrived at her new apartment in Washington Heights, Juan proves himself to be a lousy husband, at best demanding and at worst abusive. At first, Ana’s days are a bleak litany of chores and unwanted sex. But slowly, her life in New York begins to broaden, especially when Juan travels back to the D.R. on an extended business trip. By now, Ana is pregnant, but with Juan away, she is free to take English classes from the nuns across the street and scheme up ways to earn her own money, selling fried pastelitos with the help of her brother-in-law, César. César is younger than Juan, more fun than his brother, and kinder, too. César reminds Ana that joy exists—and that it can be hers—as when he surprises her with her first hot dog at Coney Island. Ultimately, though, Ana is her own strength and salvation. As she tells her ill-fated brother, Yohnny, before she leaves for New York, “I don’t need anyone to save me.”

A moving, sad, and sometimes disarmingly funny take on migration and the forces that propel us into the world.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20593-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

Humane and humorous. Rushdie is in top form, serving up a fine piece of literary satire.

QUICHOTTE

A modern Don Quixote lands in Trumpian America and finds plenty of windmills to tilt at.

Mix Rushdie’s last novel, The Golden House (2017), with his 1990 fable, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and you get something approaching this delightful confection. An aging salesman loses his job as a pharmaceutical rep, fired, with regret, by his cousin and employer. The old man, who bears the name Ismail Smile, Smile itself being an Americanization of Ismail, is “a brown man in America longing for a brown woman.” He is a dreamer—and not without ambition. Borrowing from both opera and dim memories of Cervantes, he decides to call himself Quichotte, though fake news, the din of television, and “the Age of Anything-Can-Happen” and not dusty medieval romances have made him a little dotty. His Dulcinea, Salma R, exists on the other side of the TV screen, so off Quichotte quests in a well-worn Chevy, having acquired as if by magic a patient son named Sancho, who observes that Dad does everything just like it’s done on the tube and in stories: “So if the old Cruze is our Pequod then I guess Miss Salma R is the big fish and he, ‘Daddy,’ is my Ahab." By this point, Rushdie has complicated the yarn by attributing it to a hack writer, another Indian immigrant, named Sam DuChamp (read Sam the Sham), who has mixed into the Quixote story lashings of Moby-Dick, Ismail for Ishmael, and the Pinocchio of both Collodi and Disney (“You can call me Jiminy if you want,” says an Italian-speaking cricket to Sancho along the way), to say nothing of the America of Fentanyl, hypercapitalism, and pop culture and the yearning for fame. It’s a splendid mess that, in the end, becomes a meditation on storytelling, memory, truth, and other hallmarks of a disappearing civilization: “What vanishes when everything vanishes," Rushdie writes, achingly, “not only everything, but the memory of everything.”

Humane and humorous. Rushdie is in top form, serving up a fine piece of literary satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-593-13298-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

Hugely important, hauntingly brutal—Englehardt has just announced himself as one of America’s most talented emerging writers.

BLOOMLAND

Gun violence, grief, and the struggle to construct a coherent identity in the funnel cloud of the American absurd.

Rose is a freshman at Ozarka University—a contradictory “land of white mansions” and “lurid binge drinking,” Bible study and date rape—where she is trying to pivot away from her painful childhood (first an EF5 tornado, then a neglectful mother, then a foster home) by remaking herself as a sorority sister, “carefree, upper class, and virtuous by means of…inaccessibility.” Then, during finals week, a student named Eli—a child of loss himself who feels, among other things, “overlooked, disenfranchised, promised one thing and given another”—smuggles a rifle into the crowded library and opens fire. When he’s done, 12 people are dead, and Rose’s anodyne visions, her talent for imitating the absurd, prove a flimsy antidote for the pain. Similarly remade by the shooting is Eddie Bishop, an adjunct writing instructor whose wife, Casey, is both the rebar around which his adult identity was poured (before her, he was the browbeaten replica of his brutally religious father) and one of Eli’s victims. While the media grabs for explanatory scripts (Eli comes from a nonnuclear family! He’s a drug user!) in hopes of conveniently distancing the killer from the rest of us, Englehardt’s characters—Rose, Eddie, and Eli—struggle in a more intimate sphere, a sphere where slogans don’t heal, where confusion is identity, where questions about who you were and are and want to be run like threads through the dark eyelet of Eli’s murderous act. Following each character in alternating second-person chapters—a clever and daring structure in which Eli's creative writing instructor operates as the guiding first-person consciousness at the novel's core—Englehardt’s brilliant and insanely brave debut is a culturally diagnostic achievement in the same way that Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Libra are culturally diagnostic achievements; his sentences are brutal and unflinching and yet mystically humane in the spirit of Denis Johnson’s Angels; and his America is at once beautiful and love-swirled and a kaleidoscopic wreck—a land whose cultural geology mirrors its physical one, routinely generating the “mindless malignancy” of town-wrecking tornadoes and desperate young men with guns.

Hugely important, hauntingly brutal—Englehardt has just announced himself as one of America’s most talented emerging writers.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-945814-93-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.

HEAVEN, MY HOME

The redoubtable Locke follows up her Edgar-winning Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) with an even knottier tale of racism and deceit set in the same scruffy East Texas boondocks.

It’s the 2016 holiday season, and African American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews has plenty of reasons for disquiet besides the recent election results. Chiefly there’s the ongoing fallout from Darren’s double murder investigation involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. He and his wife are in counseling. He’s become a “desk jockey” in the Rangers’ Houston office while fending off suspicions from a district attorney who thinks Darren hasn’t been totally upfront with him about a Brotherhood member’s death. (He hasn’t.) And his not-so-loving mother is holding on to evidence that could either save or crucify him with the district attorney. So maybe it’s kind of a relief for Darren to head for the once-thriving coastal town of Jefferson, where the 9-year-old son of another Brotherhood member serving hard time for murdering a black man has gone missing while motorboating on a nearby lake. Then again, there isn’t that much relief given the presence of short-fused white supremacists living not far from descendants of the town’s original black and Native American settlers—one of whom, an elderly black man, is a suspect in the possible murder of the still-missing boy. Meanwhile, Darren’s cultivating his own suspicions of chicanery involving the boy’s wealthy and imperious grandmother, whose own family history is entwined with the town’s antebellum past and who isn’t so fazed with her grandson’s disappearance that she can’t have a lavish dinner party at her mansion. In addition to her gifts for tight pacing and intense lyricism, Locke shows with this installment of her Highway 59 series a facility for unraveling the tangled strands of the Southwest’s cultural legacy and weaving them back together with the volatile racial politics and traumatic economic stresses of the present day. With her confident narrative hands on the wheel, this novel manages to evoke a portrait of Trump-era America—which, as someone observes of a pivotal character in the story, resembles “a toy ball tottering on a wire fence” that “could fall either way.”

Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-36340-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

An intriguing and little-known chapter of literary history is brought to life with brio.

THE SECRETS WE KEPT

Inspired by the true story of the role of Dr. Zhivago in the Cold War: a novel of espionage in the West, resistance in the East, and grand passions on both sides.

“We typed a hundred words a minute and never missed a syllable.…Our fingers flew across the keys. Our clacking was constant. We’d pause only to answer the phone or to take a drag of a cigarette; some of us managed to master both without missing a beat.” Prescott’s debut features three individual heroines and one collective one—the typing pool at the Agency (the then relatively new CIA), which acts as a smart, snappy Greek chorus as the action of the novel progresses, also providing delightful description and commentary on D.C. life in the 1950s. The other three are Irina, a young Russian American who is hired despite her slow typing because other tasks are planned for her; Sally, an experienced spy who is charged with training Irina and ends up falling madly in love with her; and Olga, the real-life mistress of Boris Pasternak, whose devotion to the married author sent her twice to the gulag and dwarfed everything else in her life, including her two children. Well-researched and cleverly constructed, the novel shifts back and forth between the Soviet Union and Washington, beginning with Olga’s first arrest in 1949—“When the men in the black suits came, my daughter offered them tea”—and moving through the smuggling of the Soviet-suppressed manuscript of Dr. Zhivago out of Russia all the way up to the release of the film version in 1965. Despite the passionate avowals and heroics, the love affair of Olga and Boris never quite catches fire. But the Western portions of the book—the D.C. gossip, the details of spy training, and the lesbian affair—really sing.

An intriguing and little-known chapter of literary history is brought to life with brio.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65615-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

In Woodson, at the height of her powers, readers hear the blues: “beneath that joy, such a sadness.”

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RED AT THE BONE

Woodson sings a fresh song of Brooklyn, an aria to generations of an African American family.

National Book Award winner Woodson (Harbor Me, 2018, etc.) returns to her cherished Brooklyn, its “cardinals and flowers and bright-colored cars. Little girls with purple ribbons and old women with swollen ankles.” For her latest coming-of-age story, Woodson opens in the voice of Melody, waiting on the interior stairs of her grandparents’ brownstone. She’s 16, making her debut, a “ritual of marking class and time and transition.” She insists that the assembled musicians play Prince’s risqué “Darling Nikki” as she descends. Melody jabs at her mother, Iris, saying “It’s Prince. And it’s my ceremony and he’s a genius so why are we even still talking about it? You already nixed the words. Let me at least have the music.” Woodson famously nails the adolescent voice. But so, too, she burnishes all her characters’ perspectives. Iris’ sexual yearning for another girl at Oberlin College gives this novel its title: “She felt red at the bone—like there was something inside of her undone and bleeding.” By then, Iris had all but abandoned toddler Melody and the toddler’s father, Aubrey, in that ancestral brownstone to make her own way. In 21 lyrical chapters, readers hear from both of Iris’ parents, who met at Morehouse, and Aubrey’s mother, CathyMarie, who stretched the margarine and grape jelly sandwiches to see him grown. Woodson’s ear for music—whether Walt Whitman's or A Tribe Called Quest's—is exhilarating, as is her eye for detail. Aubrey and little Melody, holding hands, listen to an old man whose “bottom dentures were loose in his mouth, moving in small circles as he spoke.” The novel itself circles elegantly back to its beginning, Melody and Iris in 2001 for a brava finale, but not before braiding the 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the fires of 9/11. The thread is held by Iris’ mother, Sabe, who hangs on through her fatal illness “a little while longer. Until Melody and Iris can figure each other out.”

In Woodson, at the height of her powers, readers hear the blues: “beneath that joy, such a sadness.”

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53527-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

A memorable portrait of a people at war—a war that has long demanded recounting from an Ethiopian point of view.

THE SHADOW KING

An action-filled historical novel by Ethiopian American writer Mengiste (Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, 2010).

The Italians who invaded Ethiopia in 1935 under the orders of the man whom the conquered people insist on calling, in quiet resistance, Mussoloni came aching to avenge a loss they had suffered 40 years earlier. They might have remembered how fiercely the Ethiopians fought. Certainly the protagonist of Mengiste’s story, a young woman named Hirut, does. In a brief prologue, we find her returning to the capital, where she has not been for decades, in 1974, in order to find an audience with the emperor, Haile Selassie, who is just about to be overthrown. She has a mysterious box, inside of which, Mengiste memorably writes, “are the many dead that insist on resurrection.” The box comes from the war nearly 40 years earlier, and it is an artifact full of meaning. Hirut was nothing if not resourceful back then: A servant in a wealthy household, she becomes a field nurse, but as the war deepens, she takes up arms and becomes a fighter herself, “the brave guard of the Shadow King”—the Shadow King being a villager who bore a reasonable enough resemblance to the emperor, who has gone into hiding, to be dressed like him, taught his mannerisms, and sent out in public in order to rally the dispirited Ethiopian people. "There are oaths that hold this world together,” Mengiste writes, “promises that cannot be left undone or unfulfilled.” Such is the oath that the emperor broke by fleeing the fight. Mengiste is a master of characterization, and her characters reveal just who they are by their actions; always of interest to watch is the Italian colonel Carlo Fucelli, who is determined to win glory for himself, and a soldato named Ettore Navarra, who has learned Amharic and wants nothing more than to live a quiet life, preferably with Hirut by his side. Hirut herself is well rounded and thoroughly fascinating—and not a person to be crossed.

A memorable portrait of a people at war—a war that has long demanded recounting from an Ethiopian point of view.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-08356-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

An ambitious adventure that keeps the surprises coming.

THE FUTURE OF ANOTHER TIMELINE

Time travelers battle for the future in this feminist sci-fi thriller.

We begin in 1992, where (or is it when?) “traveler” Tess has appeared at a punk concert in California. She’s on the lookout for “anti-travel activists” who want to shut down the mysterious “Machines,” structures of unknown origin that somehow facilitate time travel. Tess discovers that a group of misogynist crusaders, centered around the ideas of 19th-century conservative moralist Anthony Comstock, are trying to change events in the past so that women are stripped of all human rights. Tess and her friends, who are diverse in both race and gender, chase these “Comstockers” through time to stop them from fulfilling their evil plans. Meanwhile, teenager Beth, who is really living in 1992, escapes her oppressive home life to revel in the California punk scene with her best friend, Lizzy. But what is Beth supposed to do when she meets a traveler from the future who warns her to stay away from Lizzy? And why is that traveler, Tess, making detours in time to find Beth when she has a conspiracy to thwart? Newitz (Old Media, 2019, etc.) does well enough with the time-travel premise, but where this book really shines is in its page-turning plot and thoughtfully drawn characters. The Comstockers’ plan, with its rhetoric plucked straight from present-day “men’s rights” online forums, is truly terrifying. Between careful attention to Tess’ development, Beth’s chapters, and the near-constant jumps through time, the story charges along until Newitz suddenly ties it all together with breathtaking finesse. The humdinger of an ending is a perfect cherry on top.

An ambitious adventure that keeps the surprises coming.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7653-9210-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

An overstuffed, beguiling masterwork of visual storytelling from the George Herriman of his time.

RUSTY BROWN

Ware (Building Stories, 2012, etc.) fans rejoice: The long-rumored and hinted-at adventures of Rusty Brown finally come to the page after years in the making.

If Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan is indeed the smartest kid in the world, Rusty Brown is perhaps among the least comfortable inside his own skin: He lives a life of quiet desperation in a snowy Midwestern suburb, obsessed with comic heroes such as Supergirl, who he’s sure would melt away the snow with her heat vision (“maybe she has problems shutting it off sometimes”); for his part, he wonders whether, in the quiet after a snowfall, he might have developed superhearing. Rusty’s dad, Woody, is no more content: A sci-fi escapist, he teaches English alongside an art teacher who just happens to be named Mr. Ware but seems happy only when he’s smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee in the teachers’ lounge even if Mr. Ware is given to bewildering him there with talk of Lacan, Baudrillard, and ennui. Joanne Cole, an African American third grade language teacher, gently empathizes with her angst-y little charges while nursing an impulse to learn how to play the banjo; it being the civil rights era, the music store owner who sells her an instrument asks, without malice, “So how’d you get interested in the banjo, anyway? Folk music? ‘Protest’ songs?” The lives of all these characters and others intersect in curious and compelling ways. As with Ware’s other works of graphic art, the narrative arc wobbles into backstory and tangent: Each page is a bustle of small and large frames, sometimes telling several stories at once in the way that things buzz around us all the time, demanding notice. Joanne’s story is perhaps the best developed, but the picked-on if aspirational Rusty (“I appear as a mortal, but…I may not be…”), the dweeby Woody, the beleaguered Chalky, and other players are seldom far from view.

An overstuffed, beguiling masterwork of visual storytelling from the George Herriman of his time.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-375-42432-8

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Another treat from the great Anshaw: sharply observed, unsentimentally compassionate, always cognizant of life’s...

RIGHT AFTER THE WEATHER

In her early 40s, Cate is tired of low-paying theater gigs, handouts from her parents, and a furtive affair with Dana, who will never leave her live-in girlfriend.

It’s also annoying that she can’t dislodge ex-husband Graham, just dumped by wife No. 3 from her spare bedroom and from his obsession with government surveillance—paranoia entirely justified, in his view, by Donald Trump’s recent election. Still, Cate seems on her way to better things; she’s dating well-heeled Maureen and lands a job designing an off-Broadway show for a high-powered writer-director team that could ratchet up her career. However, menacing interspersed sections voiced by Nathan, a sociopath living with drug addicted Irene, suggest danger ahead. It’s quickly evident that their crash pad is somewhere near Cate’s best friend Neale’s house, and as Nathan’s monologues grow increasingly creepier, we wait for a collision. Meanwhile, Anshaw (Carry the One, 2012, etc.) crafts an engaging narrative with her customary precision and tart humor: A blowsy, “recently pretty” character “appears to do most of her shopping at Renaissance fairs,” and parking enforcement in Chicago, “once a lazy, city-run revenue effort, has been sold off to a ruthless corporation based somewhere in the Middle East…meter readers in Day-Glo vests troll relentlessly, ubiquitously.” In a cast of richly drawn characters, Cate is foremost: oddly maladroit socially for a theater worker, madly in love with Graham’s dog, Sailor, prone to imagining people’s backstories (including the décor of their homes) in judgmental terms, but essentially kind. She’s totally unprepared for the brutal confrontation that occurs halfway through the novel, but she forges ahead with her big opportunity in New York, just the way people do in real life. Anshaw never amps up her fiction with melodrama or neat conclusions, and she leaves her characters changed but by no means finished in an indeterminate yet satisfying finale.

Another treat from the great Anshaw: sharply observed, unsentimentally compassionate, always cognizant of life’s complexities.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4779-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

A pleasing book for those who like to scare themselves silly, one to read with the lights on and the door bolted.

IMAGINARY FRIEND

Two decades after his debut novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999), Chbosky returns with a creepy horror yarn that would do Stephen King proud.

“Mom? Will he find us?” So asks young Christopher of his mother, Kate, who has spirited him away from her abusive mate and found a tiny town in Pennsylvania in which to hide out. Naturally, her secret is not safe—but it’s small potatoes compared to what Christopher begins to detect as he settles in to a new life and a new school. His friends, like him, are casualties, and that’s just fine for the malevolent forces that await out in the woods and even in the sky, the latter the place where Christopher comes into contact with a smiling, talking cloud that lures him off into the ever dark woods. “That’s when he heard a little kid crying,“ writes Chbosky, and that’s just about the time the reader will want to check to be sure that no one is hiding behind the chair—or worse, and about the scariest trope of all, which Chbosky naturally puts to work, under the bed. Christopher disappears only to turn up a little less than a week later, decidedly transformed. But then, so’s everyone in Mill Grove, including his elementary school teacher, who harbors an ominous thought: “Christopher was such a nice little boy. It was too bad that he was going to die now.” As things begin to go truly haywire, Chbosky’s prose begins to break down into fragments and odd punctuation and spelling, suggesting that someone other than the author is in control of the fraught world he’s depicting. One wonders why Kate doesn’t just fire up the station wagon and head down the Pennsylvania Turnpike rather than face things like a “hissing lady” and a townsman who has suddenly begun to sport daggerlike teeth, but that’s the nature of a good scary story—and this one is excellent.

A pleasing book for those who like to scare themselves silly, one to read with the lights on and the door bolted.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-3133-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

A powerful journey into the souls of two lovers, two countries, and the people caught in the wakes of empires.

A TALL HISTORY OF SUGAR

A tale of love and struggle that crosses decades and continents.

This is Forbes’ (Ghosts, 2014, etc.) fifth work of fiction, and she writes with the confidence and poetic nerve of a seasoned veteran. In 1958, four years before Jamaica’s independence from Britain, a woman named Rachel finds an abandoned baby in a wicker basket. She names him Moshe, or Moses, and raises him as her own. Moshe was born with skin that had not yet fully developed. He’s neither black nor white. He’s bluish, with his veins visible beneath his thin, translucent skin. One eye is blue and the other is brown, and the hair on the front of his head is bleach blond while the hair on the back is black. Moshe’s appearance marks him: “The child seemed to represent some kind of perverse alchemy that had taken place in the deep earth, between tectonic plates, where he was fashioned. People said the boy just looked like sin. Big sin at work when he was made.” As a child, Moshe’s only friend is Arrienne, who in many ways is all that Moshe is not. She is loud, assertive, strong, and, in later years, becomes a political activist. He is solitary, insecure, and quietly artistic. Yet the love between them stretches across decades and follows Moshe as he leaves Jamaica and finds fame as an artist in England. Forbes lets her novel sing with all the languages of Jamaica and Britain. She has an uncanny knack for patois and dialect, including Jamaican English, the Queen’s English, and everything in between. In some ways this book tells a story of a love too deep to become romantic. In other ways it’s a novel of colonialism and its tragic aftermath of racism and economic despair. But most of all, the book is a journey. The characters are so vivid, their depictions so intimate, that the skin of the pages themselves almost pulse beneath the reader’s fingers.

A powerful journey into the souls of two lovers, two countries, and the people caught in the wakes of empires.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61775-751-8

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Miniature masterworks of modern horror proving that life is hard, weird, and always fatal.

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FULL THROTTLE

The poet laureate of everyday terrors returns with a baker’s dozen of deliciously sinister tales.

Novelist and short story writer Hill (Strange Weather, 2017, etc.) is, of course, the son of Stephen King, with whom he collaborates here on two stories, including the title tale. As ever with King, the stories have ordinary settings with ordinary people doing ordinary things until something extraordinary happens, in this case involving the familiar King nightmare of menacing vehicles (“Could you supercharge a goddamn semi?”). If one bears in mind that in his last collection Hill posited that near-future rainstorms would shower down steel daggers instead of water, some of his setups seem almost logical. The most memorable comes in “Late Returns,” in which an out-of-work trucker (there’s that semi again) finds himself behind a bookmobile delivering volumes to denizens of the afterlife, most of whom owe late fees; as one such fellow tells him, the service he offers is something of a reward “for returning overdue books in spite of the inconvenience of being dead.” There are other benefits: In the weird chronology of the other dimension, those who are about to enter the great beyond get previews of books that haven’t even been written yet—including, perhaps the most frightening moment in the entire collection, “The Art of the Presidency: How I Won My Third Term by Donald J. Trump.” Hill plays with form; one story, “The Devil on the Staircase,” is told in triangles of carefully arranged prose, a storyline worthy of Poe unfolding with eldritch intent—and a nice punchline to boot. In yet another story, this one of a more satirical turn, Hill depicts a world in which the zombie apocalypse and addiction to social media are hard to tell apart. In a series of tweets, the narrator recounts a zombie being hauled before a human audience and a box of hatchets. “Don’t like where this is going,” she says. Exactly.

Miniature masterworks of modern horror proving that life is hard, weird, and always fatal.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-220067-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Autofiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.

THE TOPEKA SCHOOL

In which the author scrupulously investigates his upper-middle-class upbringing to confront its messy interior of violence, betrayal, and mental illness.

Adam, the center and occasional narrator of Lerner’s (The Hatred of Poetry, 2016, etc.) essayistic and engrossing novel, enjoyed a privileged adolescence in the Kansas capital during the 1990s: He competed nationally in debate, had plenty of friends, and was close to his parents, two psychologists at an illustrious foundation. (Lerner is again in autofiction mode; he, too, competed in high school debate, and his parents are psychologists who’ve worked at Topeka’s Menninger Clinic.) But all is not well: Fred Phelps’ homophobic Westboro Baptist Church recurs in the narrative, a childhood concussion has left Adam with migraines, and his parents’ marriage is strained. Lerner alternates sections written from the perspectives of Adam, his mother, and his father with interludes about Darren, a mentally troubled teen who committed an act of violence at a party that Adam feels complicit in. How much? Hard to say, but the book sensitively gathers up the evidence of abuse, violation, and cruelty in Adam’s life. Though the conflicts are often modest, like Adam's mom’s fending off Phelps-ian trolls angry at her bestselling book, Lerner convincingly argues they're worth intense scrutiny. As a debate competitor, Adam had to confront a "spread"—an opponent's laying out a fearsome number of arguments, each requiring rebuttals—and Lerner is doing much the same with his adolescence. How do childhood microaggressions build into a singular violent act? Were the rhetorical debates between the Phelpses and the foundation a rehearsal for contemporary Trumpian politics? Few writers are so deeply engaged as Lerner in how our interior selves are shaped by memory and consequence, and if he finds no clear conclusion to his explorations, it makes the “Darren Eberheart situation” increasingly powerful and heartbreaking as the story moves on.

Autofiction at its smartest and most effective: self-interested, self-interrogating, but never self-involved.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-27778-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

Troncoso’s sharp-edged stories speak to the difficult lives of those who, as he writes, are born behind in a race they must...

A PECULIAR KIND OF IMMIGRANT'S SON

Linked tales of exile and the quest to belong in an unwelcoming world.

“Heart attack last night. I thought you’d be happy. Karma.” So says a Japanese American friend to Merrill Lynch analyst Ricky Quintana, a habitué of big city coffee shops and gourmet groceries, remarking with satisfaction on the death of a right-wing TV blowhard “who hates immigrants.” Ricky, born, like author Troncoso (The Nature of Truth, 2014, etc.), in the border city of El Paso, Texas, gets no particular satisfaction from the talking head’s demise, despite his own surreptitious role in it; as with the Bruegel portrait of the fall of Icarus, nothing in his world is rattled, and “nothing seemed out of place.” So it is with David, who, Gatsby-like, materializes in New England, leaving his father, “a crazed Mexican Vulcan, forging the meat of labor into capital,” and mother behind in El Paso to become a rare brown face at Harvard—and then a man who thereafter had to throw himself against one obstacle or another until, as he notes, quietly, “I got old, and that made everything better, including me.” Carlos, the “peculiar” son of the title, is contemplative, aware of the differences between him and the people around him. So is Maribel, who cleans motel rooms while studying algebra, aspiring to a better life; for all her efforts, she finds nothing good in the “piss-colored light” of Jamaica, Queens. Troncoso’s New York is a place of splendid possibilities and sad endings, a place where the reviled Other, far from home, searches for a safe place to land—the “Library Island” of the dark story by that name, a “sacred haven” where one is safe to read and think, at least until the “Outer World” bursts in; the wintry streets of Manhattan; even the cemetery.

Troncoso’s sharp-edged stories speak to the difficult lives of those who, as he writes, are born behind in a race they must run all the same.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947627-33-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Cinco Puntos

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.

FRANKISSSTEIN

An author known for her explorations of gender, desire, and imagination takes us to the past to look into the future.

There is probably no novel written in English with a more well-known origin story than Frankenstein. The scene of that work’s conception—Lake Geneva, 1816—is where Winterson begins her reimagining of science fiction’s ur-text. Mary Shelley herself is the narrator. Keenly observant, sensitive without being fragile, and utterly unashamed of her own sexuality, Winterson’s (Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere, 2018, etc.) Shelley is a brilliant creation. The contemporary author, being well versed in the gothic tropes that her predecessor deployed, plays with doubles and doppelgängers throughout, and her second narrator, Ry Shelley, is an echo both of Mary Shelley and the monster who is the invention of Mary Shelley’s invention. Ry, given the name Mary at birth, identifies as trans and works for a company devoted to cryogenics—to restoring the dead to life. It’s in this capacity that he meets Victor Stein, the “high-functioning madman” who will become his lover. Victor is famous as an expert in artificial intelligence. But Ry discovers that Victor has other—messier—pursuits as well. As is perhaps apt, this is a novel of many parts, so there are also interludes set in Bedlam, where Victor Frankenstein becomes an inmate and Mary Shelley is his visitor. There are special pleasures here for readers familiar with the science and philosophy of the early 19th century, such as when a 20th-century evangelical Christian goes undercover at the cryogenics lab to investigate where the soul goes when we die and whether or not it returns if the body is reanimated. But no specialist knowledge is needed to appreciate this inquisitive novel, because the questions Winterson is asking are questions that have always been with us. What is love? What is life? What am I, and what do I desire to be? Of course Winterson has no answers; what she offers instead is a passionate plea that we keep asking these questions as we refashion ourselves and our world.

Beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2949-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Pitch-perfect examinations of place and psyche from a writer to watch closely.

HERE UNTIL AUGUST

Characters in the throes of grief navigate their displacement in this collection of stories.

Taking readers from a small flat in Montreal to the vast dusty spaces of Western Australia, these 10 stories feature characters who are émigrés or travelers, a hybrid, in-between state that mirrors their inner states. In “Sinkers,” a young man returns to his mother’s Australian hometown to spread her ashes, though the town is completely underwater. In another story, a young Frenchwoman whose husband is killed near the Syria-Turkey border starts over in an American city and forms a melancholy relationship with a neighbor’s dog (“Chavez”). For two Australian women, married to each other just 13 days, an American hotel room on a road trip is the site of an argument over which of them should become pregnant in their quest to start a family (“Anything Remarkable”). Even characters grounded in nameless suburbia, like the wife who can no longer hide her revulsion for the much-watched pornographic tape she and her husband made as newlyweds (“Post-structuralism for Beginners”), are facing down a sense of becoming unmoored, caught between where they thought they belonged and an unknowable future. Rowe (A Loving, Faithful Animal, 2017) is a writer of great subtlety, and what could, in lesser hands, be quiet stories from familiar emotional landscapes become revelatory here. Rowe’s shape shifting, capturing the nuances of different nationalities effortlessly, is almost as remarkable as the precise, delicate, and frequently witty prose. As one character says of a pond that has drained away with only its frozen surface remaining: “It is magic in the sense that there is no metaphor you can build out of it that will not undermine its magic.” So, too, with Rowe’s work.

Pitch-perfect examinations of place and psyche from a writer to watch closely.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948226-07-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Several of Smith's stories are on their ways to becoming classics.

GRAND UNION

Nineteen erudite stories wheel through a constellation of topics, tones, and fonts to dizzying literary effect.

After launching a quiver of short fiction in the New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review, Smith adds 11 new pieces to publish her first collection. A reader can enter anywhere, as with Smith’s bravura “The Lazy River,” which “unlike the river of Heraclitus, is always the same no matter where you happen to step into it.” The artificial aquatic amusement, rotating endlessly through a Spanish resort, is “a non-judgement zone” for tourists where “we’re submerged, all of us.” Wit marbles Smith’s fiction, especially the jaunty “Escape From New York,” which riffs on the urban legend that Michael Jackson—“people had always overjudged and misunderestimated him”—ferried Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando in a rental car out of the smoking debris of 9/11. Even in “Two Men Arrive in a Village,” a global parable of horror and repetition, absurdity bubbles up: “After eating, and drinking—if it is a village in which alcohol is permitted—the two men will take a walk around...and, as they reach out for your watch or cigarettes or wallet or phone or daughter, the short one, in particular, will say solemn things like ‘Thank you for your gift.’ ” In the wondrous “Words and Music,” the survivor of a pair of disputatious sisters meditates on peak musical experiences. “Kelso Deconstructed” takes up the bleak, racist real-life stabbing of Kelso Cochrane in London in 1959, and “Meet the President!” is set in an even bleaker future where a wailing child interrupts a young teenager’s elaborate virtual video game, her misery “an acute high pitched sound, such as a small animal makes when, out of sheer boredom, you break its leg.” Much less successful are “Downtown” and “Parents’ Morning Epiphany,” which read like fragments trying to become essays. Still, Smith begins and ends with two arresting mother-daughter tales—the first nestled in alienation, the last, “Grand Union,” in communion with the dead.

Several of Smith's stories are on their ways to becoming classics.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55899-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Cha’s storytelling shows how fiction can delicately extract deeper revelations from daily headlines.

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY

A real-life racial incident is transfigured into a riveting thriller about two families’ heartbreaking struggles to confront and transcend rage and loss.

It is the late summer of 2019, but no matter how many years have passed, Shawn Matthews, a black ex-convict now working for a Los Angeles moving company, is burdened by memories of the early spring of 1991, when his teenage sister Ava was shot to death by a Korean woman who mistakenly believed she was stealing from her convenience store. The shooting and the resulting trial—in which the woman was convicted and received no jail time, after which she relocated to another part of LA—fed into racial tensions already festering back then from the Rodney King trial. And the city’s reactions to a present-day shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a police officer indicate that those racial animosities remain close to the boiling point. In the midst of the mounting furor, Grace Park, a young Korean woman, is shaken from her placid good nature by the sight of her mother being wounded in a drive-by shooting. “What if she is being punished?” her sister Miriam says, revealing a shocking fact about their mother's past that Grace hadn't known. An LAPD detective asks Shawn if he has an alibi for the drive-by (which he does). Nonetheless, the most recent shooting upends his fragile sense of security, and he starts to wonder where his cousin, Ray, himself just released from prison, was when Grace’s mother was shot. Cha, author of the Juniper Song series of detective novels (Dead Soon Enough, 2015, etc.), brings what she knows about crafting noir-ish mysteries into this fictionalized treatment of the 1991 Latasha Harlins murder, blending a shrewd knowledge of cutting-edge media and its disruptive impact with a warm, astute sensitivity toward characters of diverse cultures weighed down by converging traumas.

Cha’s storytelling shows how fiction can delicately extract deeper revelations from daily headlines.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-286885-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Like modern Grimm fairy tales, the stories in this volume are cautionary and haunting.

SUICIDE WOODS

Percy’s (The Dark Net, 2017, etc.) story collection explores a natural world, tired of being misunderstood and threatened by humans, that is finally threatening back.

The humans in these tales are beaten down by the financial collapse, the threat of disease, the mind-numbing routines of their lives; and the wilderness, kept at bay for so long by our construction and our expansion and our money, has begun to creep in at the edges, swallowing those who are lost and stretching, hungry, toward the center of our world. In “Heart of a Bear,” a bear begins to assimilate to human life only to face tragedy and loss that drive him back to the wild. In “Writs of Possession,” an unfinished luxury subdivision becomes the playground for wild animals as the human inhabitants are evicted one by one. There are small offerings of hope: the suggestion that a pair of trespassing children would have been welcomed, fed, and adopted by a homeowner in "Writs of Possession," for instance, or the ending of “The Balloon,” where, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, two misfits may find solace in each other. For the most part, though, these stories echo with paranoia and loss; there is, Percy suggests, a hollow, empty core beneath the trappings of our modern lives. As he describes a main character in “The Uncharted”: “His friends call him a warrior poet. They have misinterpreted his emptiness for depth.” Despite the loneliness and violence of these tales, however, there is icy beauty in Percy’s language, even as he describes depression: “We take Xanax. We take Lorazapam. We take Prozac and Paxil and Zoloft. Dozens of little moons dissolve inside us and make our brains deaden and our hearts fizz. Sometimes we are so sad we do not move.” This beauty redeems the vision of darkness that he offers—held out before us, these words suggest that there is still something worth saving in our broken human existence.

Like modern Grimm fairy tales, the stories in this volume are cautionary and haunting.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64445-006-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant. A thrilling book in every way.

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OLIVE, AGAIN

The thorny matriarch of Crosby, Maine, makes a welcome return.

As in Strout’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Olive Kitteridge (2008, etc.), the formidable title character is always a presence but not always onstage in these 13 interconnected tales of loneliness, loss, and love in its many flawed incarnations. Olive has not become any easier to like since her husband, Henry, died two years ago; “stupid” is a favorite adjective, and “phooey to you” a frequent term of dismissal. But over the course of about a decade we see Olive struggling, in her flinty way, to become “oh, just a tiny—tiny—bit better as a person.” Her second marriage, to Jack Kennison, helps. “I like you, Olive,” he says. “I’m not sure why, really. But I do.” Readers will feel the same, as she brusquely comforts a former student with cancer in “Light” and commiserates with the grieving daughter-in-law she has never much liked in “Motherless Child.” Yet that story ends with Olive’s desolate conclusion that she is largely responsible for her fraught relationship with her son: “She herself had [raised] a motherless child.” Parents are estranged from children, husbands from wives, siblings from each other in this keening portrait of a world in which each of us is fundamentally alone and never truly knows even those we love the most. This is not the whole story, Strout demonstrates with her customary empathy and richness of detail. “You must have been a very good mother,” Olive’s doctor says after observing Christopher in devoted attendance at the hospital after she has a heart attack, and the daughter of an alcoholic mother and dismissive, abusive father finds a nurturing substitute in her parents’ lawyer in “Helped.” The beauty of the natural world provides a sustaining counterpoint to charged human interactions in which “there were so many things that could not be said.” There’s no simple truth about human existence, Strout reminds us, only wonderful, painful complexity. “Well, that’s life," Olive says. "Nothing you can do about it.”

Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant. A thrilling book in every way.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9654-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

Not a gentle novel but a deeply tender one.

ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS

After the brutish family patriarch has a heart attack, the surviving Tuchmans (mostly) gather at his deathbed, each of them struggling to make sense of their past—and come to terms with their present.

“He was an angry man, and he was an ugly man,” the novel begins, “and he was tall, and he was pacing,” and this is how we meet Victor Tuchman in the moments before he collapses. And so the family begins to assemble: Alex, his daughter, a newly divorced lawyer, arrives in New Orleans from the Chicago suburbs; his long-suffering wife, Barbra, tiny and stoic, is already there. His son, Gary, is very notably absent, but Gary’s wife, Twyla—a family outlier, Southern and blonde—is in attendance, with her own family secrets. The novel takes place in one very long day but encompasses the entirety of lifetimes: Barbra’s life before marrying Victor and the life they led after; Alex’s unhappy Connecticut childhood and the growing gulf between her and her criminal father—irreconcilable, even in death. It encompasses Gary’s earnest attempt to build a stable family life, to escape his family through Twyla, and Twyla’s own search for meaning. Even the background characters have stories: the EMS worker who wants to move in with his girlfriend who doesn’t love him; the CVS cashier leaving for school in Atlanta next year. The Tuchmans won’t learn those stories, though, just as they won’t learn each other's, even the shared ones. Victor is the force that brings them together but also the rift that divides them. Alex wants the truth about her father, and Barbra won’t tell her; Gary wants the truth about his disintegrating marriage, and Twyla can’t explain. Prickly and unsentimental, but never quite hopeless, Attenberg (All Grown Up, 2017, etc.), poet laureate of difficult families, captures the relentlessly lonely beauty of being alive.

Not a gentle novel but a deeply tender one.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-544-82425-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

A revelation. Hilarious, heartfelt, and hot. Hibbert is a major talent.

GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN

When computer geek Chloe realizes she has allowed her chronic illness to shrink her world, she creates a list of risky adventures that her building superintendent, a hunky artist, is all too happy to share.

After ending an abusive relationship with a London socialite, Redford Morgan has taken refuge in a nearby city, working as a super in his best mate’s building. Once a promising artist, Red’s self-esteem hasn’t fully recovered, so he paints at night in private. When he catches snobbish and prickly tenant Chloe Brown surreptitiously watching him, he doesn’t realize that she admires his lanky ginger looks as well as his vitality and easygoing charm. As a coping strategy for her chronic pain and exhaustion, Chloe has become, in her words, “a socially inept control freak.” Despite himself, Red is deeply attracted to Chloe’s gleaming brown skin and rococo beauty. After they join forces for a side-splittingly funny cat rescue, Chloe agrees to exchange her website design services for Red’s tolerance of her illicit furry roommate, and a friendship is born. With alternating points of view, Hibbert (That Kind of Guy, 2019, etc.) portrays how their relationship helps Red recover from intimate partner violence and helps Chloe stop allowing her fibromyalgia to steal her happiness. The plot sounds heavy, and Hibbert certainly writes authentic moments of physical and emotional pain, but this is an incredibly funny, romantic, and uplifting book. Red is as charming, sexy, and vulnerable as can be, but Chloe steals the show with her sarcasm, wit, and eccentric coping mechanisms. Even better, Chloe is surrounded by a family of remarkable, glamorous women, including two sisters who will be featured in later installments. Hibbert centers the diversity of the English experience, avoiding both the posh and the twee.

A revelation. Hilarious, heartfelt, and hot. Hibbert is a major talent.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-294120-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Fiction to linger over.

ON SWIFT HORSES

A first-time novelist explores desire and identity in the mid-20th century.

The year is 1956. Muriel is 21. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Lee. He’s just been discharged from the Navy and dreams of buying a piece of land in a part of California that is just being developed. Muriel has made no secret of her lack of interest in this plan; what she does keep secret, though, is her passion for betting on horses. One of her waitressing jobs is in a bar frequented by retired jockeys, bookies, and other habitués of the racetrack. She listens to their gossip, makes canny wagers, and passes off her winnings as tips. Muriel’s success gives her a sense of control and possibility, and the fact that she keeps her gambling from her husband gives her a sense of independence. Marriage is not quite what she expected it to be. When she agreed to move to California, it was on the understanding that Lee’s brother, Julius, would be coming with them. Lee is solid and reliable and clearly devoted to her, but it's Julius who inspires her to imagine a world larger and more exciting than the one she's known. Instead, Julius wanders the West until he lands in Las Vegas. The city suits him. Like Muriel, he’s a gambler, but he also discovers that Las Vegas is a place where his sexuality does not make him conspicuous. Pufahl presents a vision of the 1950s that is distinctly at odds with the idea that this decade was an American golden age. She reminds us that there has never been a time when women didn’t work outside the home and that, in our nostalgic remembering of that era, we tend to elide the bigotry and oppression experienced by many. More than that, though, Pufahl offers exquisite prose. Her style is slow and deliberate but also compelling because her language is so lyrical and specific. Consider Muriel’s first glimpse of the thoroughbreds: “They are tall and obdurate and only lightly controlled.” The book is filled with such rhythmically lovely, splendidly evocative, and masterfully precise descriptions. In these moments, it feels like Pufahl could not possibly have said what she needed to say with any other words.

Fiction to linger over.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53811-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

A splendid though demanding entertainment, playful and pensive at once and beautifully written throughout.

THE DREAMED PART

Following on his novel The Invented Part (2017), avant-garde Argentinian writer Frésan looks into the world of dreams and finds a rich trove for interpretation.

Early on, Frésan introduces us to a writer who hasn’t written for so long that he’s no longer really a writer at all, and “to be an exwriter isn’t just to not be a writer anymore, it is, in a way, to never have been one.” The books remain, sure, but now all he has to sell are his dreams. The dream world is a place of “experiments gone awry,” a place where Bono can dream up a Roy Orbison song that never existed and have Orbison show up at his door to claim it, a place visited by shape-shifters such as one Stella D’Or, who might be “an intellectual rocker,” or a street fighter who destroys the neon lights that get in the way of a good night’s sleep, or a monster who troubles one’s dreams. Themes appear, disappear, reappear; one is insomnia, which is not the subject of a book interpreting it “because there are no two insomniacs alike or systematizable.” Yet it is in lack of dreams that reason produces its true monsters. The mysterious character from The Invented Part named IKEA returns to take part in the proceedings, as do Frésan-ian touchstones like Sigmund Freud and Vladimir Nabokov, the latter of whom “had a more than interesting relationship with the insomnia that pursued him and caught him and made him suffer throughout his entire life.“ And, of course, John Lennon, Emily Brontë, Bob Dylan, and countless other figures from cultural history roam in and out of the oneiric night along with fictional characters such as the aptly named Penelope, who does write, weaving stories about ascending Mount Karma, Alfred Hitchcock, and the Talking Heads, waking up in a start to do so, “because for Penelope, to write is the only thing left for her to write.”

A splendid though demanding entertainment, playful and pensive at once and beautifully written throughout.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948830-05-8

Page Count: 552

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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