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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

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WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Keaton sheds her whimsical persona to explore difficult burdens that those with an unstable sibling will recognize.

BROTHER & SISTER

A MEMOIR

In this melancholic addition to Keaton’s two previous works of memoir (Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty, 2014, etc.), she strives to understand her troubled younger brother.

Two poignant passages bookend the author’s brief account of her relationship with her brother, Randy Hall. In the first, she recalls the pair at 5 and 3, sharing a bedroom in their Southern California home, Keaton “glancing down from my top-bunk apartment in the sky and seeing Randy’s anxious bobbing head, his fear of the dark, and his sweet if hapless face….Why couldn’t he stop seeing ghosts lurking in shadows that weren’t there?” The second depicts the siblings, now in their 70s, sitting quietly as Keaton holds her ailing brother’s hand and strokes his hair during a visit to his nursing home. In between these moments of intimacy, Keaton admits to long periods of estrangement from her sensitive, self-destructive, alcoholic brother, who “took failure and wore it the way Hester Pryne wore her scarlet letter,” spending an isolated life writing, collaging, drinking, and existing by grace of the support—financial and otherwise—of his parents and sisters. While never completely free of worry or involvement, the author discloses that “while I was playing the firebrand Louise Bryant [in the film Reds], he’d attempted to gas himself in the garage….I told myself I didn’t have time to linger on my family’s problems, and certainly not Randy’s.” Keaton thoughtfully wrestles with her guilty conscience while attempting to assemble a clearer picture of her brother’s nature. To do so, she relies heavily on excerpts from his poems, prose, and letters and those of family members. Yet Hall—described variously as “a schizoid personality” by a doctor, an “Almost Artist” by Keaton, and a “genius” by his idealizing mother—remains inscrutable and difficult to sympathize with.

Keaton sheds her whimsical persona to explore difficult burdens that those with an unstable sibling will recognize.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-49450-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

A funny, highly informative, and terrifying read.

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UNCANNY VALLEY

A MEMOIR

A former tech worker–turned-journalist gives the inside scoop on life inside the wickedly weird and wealthy world of Silicon Valley startups.

Before Wiener took a customer support job at a San Francisco–based tech startup, she was a broke 20-something pursuing dead-end jobs in the New York publishing industry. Friends who had left the city warned her that the San Francisco they loved had been replaced by “a late capitalist hellscape” that catered to the “on-demand” whims of young techies with “plump bank accounts.” Wiener quickly learned that the tech workplace was younger, more casual, and more male-dominant than she had expected. Helping company clients, she often felt like she was one step above artificial intelligence. “I was an intelligent artifice, an empathetic text, a snippet or a warm voice, giving instructions, listening comfortingly,” she writes. Despite bouts of existential angst, within a year of moving west, Wiener moved into middle management and a work life that included a healthy salary as well as “an acronym and enterprise accounts.” Still, her salary represented a tiny fraction of the total wealth—which sometimes amounted to billions—she saw generated in the high-stakes startup world around her. As she burrowed deeper into the tech world, she saw excesses that repulsed almost as much as they excited her. Quasi-autocratic corporate cultures, including her own, demanded body-and-soul loyalty for “perks” such as ultrastylish workplace surroundings, interoffice skateboarding, luxurious company retreats, and work-at-home privileges on platforms that looked like “video game[s] for children.” Wiener also witnessed the ruthlessness of Silicon Valley’s quest to control consumer behavior through data acquisition and the way it actively promoted men while telling females to “trust karma” when it came to advancement. Equal parts bildungsroman and insider report, this book reveals not just excesses of the tech-startup landscape, but also the Faustian bargains and hidden political agendas embedded in the so-called “inspiration culture” underlying a too-powerful industry.

A funny, highly informative, and terrifying read.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-37-427801-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Endless clever details and suspenseful plotting make this speculative-fiction debut an addictive treat.

FOLLOWERS

How far will our addiction to screens and our obsession with social media go? And how much will we pay for it?

The bill is large indeed in Angelo’s first novel. In alternating narratives beginning in 2015 and 2051, she creates two chilling versions of celebrity culture in techno-hell. It all starts with a post on a website called Lady-ish written by staff blogger Orla Cadden. “Sooo What Does The World’s Most Expensive Brow Gel Actually Do? One Instagram It Girl Finds Out” is the first of a series of pieces Orla concocts (down to scrubbing the writing off a tube of Maybelline for the photo shoot) to boost the profile of a wannabe Kardashian type—actually her roommate, Floss, whose drive to be famous in the absence of any talent or notable quality runs over everything in sight for the course of the novel. In the 2051 plot, we meet Marlow, a young wife in Constellation, California, a closed town populated with government-selected celebrities devoted entirely to the production of a reality show watched by everyone who does not live there. “Is it me or does Mar have kinda chubby armpits,” asks one of Marlow’s more than 12 million followers, watching her stretch before getting out of bed in the morning. “NOOOOOOO NO ONE WANTS TO WATCH ANOTHER PILL AD—PUT THE MARLOW FLAMINGO SMACKDOWN BACK ON!!!!!” screams another when Marlow gets upset with her network-issued storyline and throws a fit. Both the 2015 and 2051 plots revolve around a mysterious event called the Spill, which feels somewhat less original and interesting than the buildup to its reveal. However, the joy of the details continues all the way to a denouement in Atlantis (formerly Atlantic City), where the relationships we have begun to suspect between the characters of the two plotlines are untangled and confirmed.

Endless clever details and suspenseful plotting make this speculative-fiction debut an addictive treat.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-525-83626-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Graydon House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

A gut-wrenching debut.

MY DARK VANESSA

The #MeToo movement forces a struggling young woman to confront the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past.

At 15, Vanessa Wye falls for her English teacher at Browick, a private boarding school. Jacob Strane is 42, "big, broad, and so tall that his shoulders hunch as though his body wants to apologize for taking up so much space." Strane woos Vanessa with Nabokov's novels, Plath's poetry, and furtive caresses in his back office. "I think we're very similar, Nessa," Strane tells her during a one-on-one conference. "I can tell from the way you write that you're a dark romantic like me." Soon, Vanessa is reveling in her newfound power of attraction, pursuing sleepovers at Strane's house, and conducting what she feels is a secret affair right under the noses of the administration. More than 15 years later, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Taylor Birch, another young woman from Browick, publicly accuses Strane of sexual abuse. When a young journalist reaches out to Vanessa to corroborate Taylor's story, Vanessa's world begins to unravel. "Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it," Vanessa tells herself. Russell weaves Vanessa's memories of high school together with the social media–saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Russell's debut is a rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse, and her novel asks readers both to take Vanessa's assertions of agency at face value and to determine the real, psychological harm perpetrated against her by an abusive adult. What emerges is a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. "The excuses we make for them are outrageous," Vanessa concludes about abusive men, "but they're nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves."

A gut-wrenching debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294150-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

A meticulously documented, essential work.

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CATCH AND KILL

LIES, SPIES, AND A CONSPIRACY TO PROTECT PREDATORS

The award-winning journalist sharply illuminates how he exposed Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator.

Along the way, Farrow (War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, 2018)—a New Yorker contributing writer who has won the Pulitzer Prize, National Magazine Award, and George Polk Award—offers a primer on investigative journalism, a profession that he is well on the way to mastering. For this book, he writes, he drew “on interviews with more than two hundred sources, as well as hundreds of pages of contracts, emails, and texts, and dozens of hours of audio.” As the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, the author has wrestled for years with allegations of sexual assault in his own family, leveled by his sister Dylan against their father. During his investigation of Weinstein—and later, multiple high-level sexual predators within NBC—Farrow had to fend off complaints that he was too close to the story. Along the investigative path, the author sought insight from his sister and relied on the steadfast support of his partner. Though Farrow and his producer believed their pursuit of Weinstein had the blessing of the top brass at NBC, they gradually learned that Weinstein was using his massive influence to sabotage the investigation. Consequently, the author took his work to the New Yorker, where editor David Remnick provided a venue for him to present his story. Ultimately, Weinstein was arrested. In addition to chronicling his work on the Weinstein project, Farrow also discusses the transgressions of Donald Trump and Matt Lauer. At times, the book is difficult to read, mainly because Weinstein, Trump, Lauer, and other powerful men victimized so many women while those who knew about the assaults stayed quiet. Nonetheless, this is an urgent, significant book that pairs well with She Said by New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Both books are top-notch accounts filled with timeless insights about investigative journalism, on a par with classics from Seymour Hersh and Bob Woodward.

A meticulously documented, essential work.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-48663-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2019

Fresh, whip-smart wisdom that will appeal most to women battling weight and self-esteem issues.

F*CK YOUR DIET

AND OTHER THINGS MY THIGHS TELL ME

Comedian and former journalist Hilliard shares embarrassing and empowering moments throughout a life obsessed with body image and food.

In her first book, the author delivers a highly personal assessment with self-deprecating humor and frank honesty. As a “chunky” only child raised in Brooklyn, Hilliard was relentlessly bullied in school due to her statuesque size (6 feet, 1 inch) and higher-than-average weight. Early depression and self-loathing habits soon followed. The author shifts partial blame for her negative relationship with her body and food to biological growth spurts and an upbringing in which her working-class parents succumbed to the easy conveniences of processed fast food, an eat-everything-you-are-served mentality, and ignorance about exercise and balanced nutrition. This uncomfortable reality solidified itself into Hilliard’s psyche as an adult, when she continued wrestling with the scale and her self-image as a black woman. Her book addresses “nearly forty years of failures” and episodes of yo-yo dieting and struggling to thoroughly love herself. She chronicles her first encounters with love, her brief idea of pursuing a basketball career, a brush with a near-fatal infection, and her liberating defiance in the face of societal standards of beauty and body size. “White women get to be plain-Janes,” writes the author. “Women of color have to be exotic in order to be celebrated.” Though the author engages in plenty of chatty digressions—she takes due time to contribute spirited commentary on “Black Girl Magic,” fad diets, and the complexities of singledom and masturbation (“for far too long, women have downplayed their sexual satisfaction in order to boost their partner’s ego”)—these expository detours don’t detract from her core message of unconditional self-acceptance at any age in a woman’s life. Hilliard’s narrative, though occasionally scattershot, is informative, inspiring, and often hilarious.

Fresh, whip-smart wisdom that will appeal most to women battling weight and self-esteem issues.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982108-61-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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