Veteran journalist Shafrir, currently of BuzzFeed News, sharply skewers tech culture in a feminist satire that’s as addictive as it is biting.
At 28, Mack McAllister, golden boy of Silicon Alley, is the founder of TakeOff, a workplace-wellness app (tell it how you’re feeling and it makes you feel better!) valued at $600 million (a billion, hopefully, not this funding round, maybe, but next). Katya Pasternack is an ambitious young reporter at TechScene (“Tech news straight, no chaser”) who knows that while she’s a master of raking in the traffic—her posts top the charts—she needs a game-changing scoop to prove her chops and, more urgently, keep her job amid an ominous companywide “audit.” Meanwhile, Katya’s boss, Dan Blum, downright wizened at 39, is unhappily married to Sabrina Choe Blum, a failed novelist and exhausted mother of two in serious credit-card debt. And as it happens, Sabrina has recently (and somewhat desperately) taken an ill-fitting social media job at—where else?—TakeOff. Then one fateful night, Mack, who has been getting rather friendly with Sabrina’s young, pretty boss, fires off a series of unfortunate texts—texts that, by virtue of the incestuous New York tech scene, aren’t so private after all. And so the game is in play: Mack’s in trouble; Katya’s hungry for a story; and Sabrina, involuntarily entangled on both sides, ends up in the eye of the brewing storm. Increasingly fed up with the near-endless entitlement of the men in their lives, Katya and Sabrina—unlikely allies—find themselves working toward a shared goal: to expose the tech-bro patriarchy for what it is. Exacting, though not without empathy—Shafrir renders even the most infuriating of her characters with unexpected humanity—the novel is a page-turning pleasure that packs a punch.
To call it expertly observed is an understatement.
A founding editor of the Onion provides a satirical guide to surviving Donald Trump’s America.
In a book that was previously published in 2016 as Trump’s America: The Complete Loser’s Guide, Dikkers and his formidable team of contributors deliver 170 pages of hilarity very much in the mold of other Onion-related books, including Our Dumb Century and Our Dumb World. Packed with photographs, infographics, vintage-looking newspaper and magazine clippings, graphs, sidebars, lists, and all the other visual elements in the Onion’s bag of tricks, the book will find plenty of laughs among the anti-Trump crowd. Dikkers and company cover all the possible attack points, taking the president to task for narcissism, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and everything else that has made Trump such a focal point of anger and endless controversy. Chapters include “The World Community: Un-American” and “The Environment: Hippie Crap,” and the satire is relentless and consistently spot-on. Among the items “To Be Thrown Out of the White House on Day One” are “Obama’s Koran” and “any administrative assistant over 26.” Trump’s proposed citizenship exam includes such entries as, “Are you from Mexico? If yes, describes what makes you one of the good ones.” Throughout the book, Dikkers takes aim at Trump’s obsessive, ridiculous Twitter habits, with such “Top Trump Tweets” as “I will never donate blood because I made it and it’s mine” and “I’m refusing the pathetic presidential salary. Will donate every penny to breast enhancement research. #charity.” The funniest spread may be “Donald Trump’s World Map,” which shows the president’s alleged thoughts on dozens of areas around the world: India includes “smelly food” and “50 million IT guys,” while Russia features “very nice KGB friends,” and Africa is known for “birthplace of Barack Obama,” “animals that look like rugs,” and “Melania’s diamonds.” While it can be argued that most of this material preaches to the choir, it’s a damned funny sermon, just the thing to while away the time until the next outrage.
Sure to appeal to Onion fans and anyone unhappy with our current president.
This novel about a couple that agrees to have an open marriage, for a limited time only and while adhering to certain rules, is a polished, amusing, and highly entertaining take on modern relationships, parenthood, and suburbia.
When Owen and Lucy—an attractive young married couple who, shortly after their on-the-spectrum 5-year-old son, Wyatt, was born, swapped their hip New York City existence for life in a small, “pretty Norman Rockwell-y” Hudson Valley town—first hear, one boozy night, about Brooklyn friends’ plan to allow each other to have sex with other people, they are scandalized. But soon, they find themselves drawing up a set of rules spelling out for themselves a similar arrangement, a finite period of infidelity, a six-month marital “rumspringa,” Owen calls it: no falling in love, no talking about it or snooping, no sex with anyone in their crowd, no looking too happy, and definitely no leaving. “We’re joking about this, right?” Owen asks. “Yes, we’re joking,” says Lucy. But then, it turns out, no, they aren’t. What follows is a superfun, pleasingly light romp through the promise and pitfalls of marital infidelity, the trials and rewards of parenting, and the joys and frustrations of life in an upscale small town for the transplanted urban couple. The premise may sound contrived, its subject matter trite and fluffy, and its characters overly stereotypical, and it likely would be in less able hands. But Dunn, an accomplished TV writer and producer (Murphy Brown, Spin City, Bunheads, American Housewife) who has written two previous novels (The Big Love, 2004, and Secrets to Happiness, 2009), is a total pro—and the book is smartly conceived, sharply written, perfectly paced, and, even at its most madcap moments, entirely believable and engaging. Despite Owen and Lucy’s self-made troubles, they are eminently sympathetic and disarmingly appealing, as are the parade of amusing supporting characters and plotlines. (More Sunny Bang, please!) Chick lit? Perhaps, but, witty and well-written, it’s the most satisfying sort—a true guilty pleasure.
Dunn’s dryly humorous story about a marriage that goes dangerously off-road never loses its groove.
A stunning debut collection from Unferth (Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, 2011, etc.), in which a maverick cast of lonely characters wades through life’s uncertainties.
Unferth, whose collection of short-short fiction, Minor Robberies (2007), was published by McSweeney’s, re-emerges with 39 poignant, sharp-edged stories that cut right to the bone of the human psyche with precision and grace. The collection opens with the Pushcart Prize–winning “Likeable,” a story ironically about a woman who is so “inconveniently unlikable…she will have to be shoved into a hole and left there.” While this woman sadly capitulates to her fate, the rest of the books’ inhabitants don’t fold so willingly (at least not without a fight or the haphazard adoption of two turtles). They’re disenchanted, mordantly obsessive, delusional, yet nevertheless utterly relatable in their indefatigable search for love and acceptance, each one quietly shouldering “the familiar slow-burn panic that you were doing nothing with your life, had not lived up to your ‘potential,’ or, worse, you had and it changed nothing.” In “Flaws,” a couple’s listless gossiping devolves into a gloves-off screaming match (succinctly encapsulated in one paragraph). In another story, a father, ignoring the glaring chasms in his family life, signs up for a prison mentoring program and becomes deeply invested in a one-sided relationship. Meanwhile, the title story’s protagonist, a clairvoyant adjunct professor—who can predict how long someone has to live—arrives at a moral crossroads when she falls in love with her failing student. Prickly dilemmas, physical and existential, abound in these allegorical stories, each terrifically mundane and told with an exquisite restraint that drolly captures the inherent hope of humanity, or, “the sheer human stubbornness that causes those worse off...to grab hold and climb back into the world of the living, ‘optimism,’ one might call it.”
Chock-full of emotional insight and comic verve, Unferth’s beguiling stories are not to be missed.
White high school senior Bentley Royce’s reality TV world and her family are falling apart. There’s no promise of another season for Rolling with the Royces, but can Bent make this one a record-setter and keep her family together?
Bent has been a TV star since the age of 12. On the show, she is “Bad Bentley,” an unruly teen, but that’s not how she sees herself. The other Royces struggle with their identities as well, unable to differentiate between reality TV and real life. With the help of Mexican corporate head Diego Sanchez and her brown-skinned friend, Venice, she comes up with a plan to create the perfect season. In helping her family, Bent learns who she wants to be. In this sendup of the modern media world, Stohl evolves Bent from a damsel in distress to a leader, even if things don’t go as planned. Stohl realistically represents Los Angeles as a diverse community with a large Latino population, though most of the main characters are wealthy and white. Within that primary-cast limitation, this funny, fast-paced read also explores identity, tragedy, and rallying around the people you love. Hilarious, emoji-bedecked footnotes from vapid RWTR–developer “the Dirk” add fizz to the breezy third-person narration: “Reminder: pls destroy this footage. It can never surface. Ever. Anywhere. ?”
A smart, satirical edge separates this Hollywood chick-lit from many others.
Deeply perceptive and dryly hilarious, Attenberg’s (Saint Mazie, 2015, etc.) latest novel follows Andrea Bern: on the cusp of 40, single, child-free by choice, and reasonably content, she’s living a life that still, even now, bucks societal conventions. But without the benchmarks of “grown up” success—an engagement, a husband, a baby—Andrea is left to navigate her own shifting understanding of adulthood.
“Why is being single the only thing people think of when they think of me? I’m other things, too,” Andrea says, much to the delight of her therapist, who wants to know, then, what exactly those other things are. She is a woman, Andrea says. A designer who works in advertising; a New Yorker; technically, a Jew. A friend, she tells her therapist. A daughter, a sister, an aunt. Here are the things that Andrea does not say: she’s alone. A drinker. A former artist. A shrieker in bed. At 39, Andrea is neither an aspirational figure nor a cautionary tale of urban solitude. She is, instead, a human being, a person who, a few years ago, got a pair of raises at work and paid off her debt from her abandoned graduate program and then bought some real furniture, as well as proper wine glasses. And still she does not fully compute to the people around her, people whose “lives are constructed like buildings, each precious but totally unsurprising block stacked before your eyes.” Everyone is married or marrying, parenting or pregnant, and it’s not so much that she’s lusting after these things, specifically—neither marriage nor babies is her “bag,” anyway—so much as it’s that her lack of them puts her at odds with the adult world and its definitions of progress. Structured as a series of addictive vignettes—they fly by if you let them, though they deserve to be savored—the novel is a study not only of Andrea, but of her entire ecosystem: her gorgeous, earthy best friend whose perfect marriage maybe isn’t; her much younger co-worker; her friend, the broke artist, who is also her ex-boyfriend and sometimes her current one. And above all, her brother and his wife, whose marriage, once a living affirmation of the possibility of love, is now crumbling under the pressure of their terminally ill child.
Wry, sharp, and profoundly kind; a necessary pleasure.
A professional thank-you-note writer buys a house with a past and gets more than she bargained for.
Faith Frankel is feeling like a bit of a loser. She has a futureless job writing letters to alumni in the development department of her old private school. Her fiance, who gave her a piece of red thread in lieu of an engagement ring, is on a cross-country walk to benefit his own personal growth and is documenting the trip on Facebook with selfies that include smiling ex-girlfriends in locations across the country. Her insurance-agent father has become a painter in his retirement and left her mother for the woman who convinced him to start a bat-mitzvah-gift forgery business. “She asked if he could make a copy of Chagall, but perhaps more lavender than blue—purple was their daughter’s favorite color—and work her daughter’s name into it, and give the angel her face, with her bangs but without her braces.” This, it turns out, is a business model whose time has come. When Faith finds, in the attic of her new little house, a photo album containing images of what may be dead twin babies, she's so creeped out that she offers her empty second bedroom to her handsome, kind, newly single, and homeless officemate. Nick Franconi is another idea whose time has come. Of course things will get worse before they get better, with the local police department ripping up her basement in search of murder evidence and a scandal at the office in which Faith is accused of funneling a huge alumni donation to her fiance. Lipman (The View from Penthouse B, 2013, etc.) is known for her dialogue, so snappy, funny, and real that it cancels out any dubiousness about the kooky mystery plot.
Tiktin’s (A Perception of Murder, 2016, etc.) tale of romantic strife and racial tension is a hard little sourball of social comedy. An incisive and unsparing examination of self-interest complicated by social expectations, the novel features a cast of painfully relatable—if almost entirely unsympathetic—characters enslaved to their baser natures while struggling futilely to navigate the neuroses those drives inevitably create. Jonathan Meltzer is the titular therapist, a callow counselor-in-training suffering from a serious case of Portnoy’s Complaint: passive, wracked by fears of sexual inadequacy, and fatally constricted by his Jewish upbringing. His clients are Thaddeus, a simmering cauldron of resentment and ambition, and Beverly, a stunning Jamaican princess, venal and calculating, nursing a catastrophic credit card addiction. Jonathan lusts for Beverly, Beverly appraises Jonathan as a no-limit American Express card–carrying upgrade from her current husband, and Thaddeus, perhaps the sharpest and most perceptive of the three, sees an opportunity in the possibility of a fat malpractice suit should Jonathan and Beverly succumb to temptation. Tiktin employs this farcical premise to dig into deeply uncomfortable issues of racial identity (Thaddeus and Beverly are black, Jonathan is white), social status, personal ethics and morality, and sexual insecurity, deftly alternating points of view and imbuing each of his players with rich inner lives and distinctive voices. Tiktin is also a playwright with a gift for revealing character through dialogue, and his supporting characters—Jonathan’s abrasive girlfriend, Arlene, his oversharing New Age therapist, Timothy, and Thaddeus’ conflicted work-crush, Maureen—emerge as vividly as the main cast, providing yet another layer of illuminating perspective on the principal action. Tiktin’s work here invites comparison to Roth, Updike, and Wolfe—and, though slight in comparison to those titans’ masterpieces, his latest novel acquits itself well in the tradition.
Sharp, satiric, and uncomfortably insightful, Tiktin’s novel amuses and abrades in equal measure.
This take-no-prisoners satire puts politically correct urbanites in their place for real.
Karen Kipple and her husband, Matt, both career activists in the nonprofit sector, have righteously enrolled their daughter in their zoned public elementary school, where “the white population…hovered around 20 percent.” However, Karen, like some other white parents, is concerned that she's sacrificed quality education for diversity. Among other dubious accomplishments, her daughter can recite the wedding date of Coretta and Martin Luther King—because “every month was Black History Month—except when it was Latino History Month.” A scuffle on the playground between a Jayyden and a Maeve further divides the parents along racial lines: “What that kid needs is a serious whupping” versus “With all due respect, violence is not the answer to violence.” Karen is so beached in the mud of responsible domesticity that it has affected even her dreams, “the majority of them so prosaic that she sometimes felt embarrassed when she woke up.” But this pill of a woman, depicted in deadpan, grimly hilarious detail, is about to cut loose—starting an extramarital affair with a billionaire she's canvassing for her nonprofit, stealing gas bills out of the trash so she can move her daughter to a whiter public school, then performing an insane Robin Hood maneuver that could land her in that most racially imbalanced environment of them all. Rosenfeld (The Pretty One, 2013) depicts Karen with such pitiless disdain that it's a welcome surprise when the plot gives her a chance at redemption. From its James Baldwin epigraph—“White people cannot, in the generality, be taken as models of how to live”—to the final pages, in which Karen decides not to inquire about the fate of young Jayyden to avoid appearing “like one of those well-meaning, college-educated white liberals who fetishize the deprivations of the underclass,” this book takes dead aim and doesn’t miss.
Comin’ at you “with a copy of Karl Marx’s Capital in one hand and a raisin bagel in the other.” Right on, Rosenfeld.