Painfully honest, compassionately cognizant of human frailty and complexity, alive to the magic of creativity yet aware of...

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THE END OF THE JEWS

Mansbach (Angry Black White Boy, 2004, etc.) searchingly examines the fraught relations between Jews and gentiles, blacks and whites, men and women, artists and those who nurture them.

The bravura opening set piece catches Tristan Brodsky racing through his East Bronx neighborhood in 1935. “Fifteen years old, the sum total of five thousand years of Jewry, one week into City College, a mind on him like a diamond cutter,” Tristan is an aspiring writer desperate to break free from his immigrant parents’ narrow expectations. A half-century later in Prague, teenage photographer Nina Hricek similarly burns to escape stifling communist Czechoslovakia, maybe even find the father who fled for the States five years earlier and hasn’t been heard from since. The third chapter introduces Tristan’s grandson, Tris Freedman, or RISK, as he prefers to be known in 1989, when the suburban teen spray-paints his tag on freight trains in between gigs playing hip-hop music at Connecticut bar mitzvahs. In one of the novel’s many smart, socially revealing scenes, RISK takes Grandpa—a famous novelist who’s having a bad bout of writer’s block—out to the yards with some cans of Red Devil. Rejuvenated by his contact with a new kind of culture, Tristan begins a novel that, when it’s published in 1997, completely overshadows his embittered grandson’s fiction debut. A raft of full-bodied characters helps Mansbach maintain equal interest in the separate plot lines until Nina eventually meets Tris, but the central, tragic story concerns the slow disintegration of Tristan’s marriage to Amalia, a gifted poet whose initial connection with Tristan as a fellow writer is so electric that it takes her 50 years to finally rebel against his cold, punishing ways and dedication to his work at the expense of his family. The moving, chilling final scenes suggest that Tris is the same sort of unapologetically egotistical artist.

Painfully honest, compassionately cognizant of human frailty and complexity, alive to the magic of creativity yet aware of its consequences—very exciting fiction indeed.

Pub Date: March 18, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-385-52044-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2007

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A gut-wrenching debut.

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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

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Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled...

A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD

A riveting, potentially redemptive story of modern American suburbia that reads almost like an ancient Greek tragedy.

When the Whitmans, a nouveau riche white family, move into a sprawling, newly built house next door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor of forestry and ecology, and her musically gifted, biracial 18-year-old son, Xavier, in a modest, diverse North Carolina neighborhood of cozy ranch houses on wooded lots, it is clear from the outset things will not end well. The neighborhood itself, which serves as the novel’s narrator and chorus, tells us so. The story begins on “a Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them,” we are informed in the book’s opening paragraph. “Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who’s to blame.” The exact nature of the tragedy that has been foretold and questions of blame come into focus gradually as a series of events is set inexorably in motion when the Whitmans’ cloistered 17-year-old daughter, Juniper, encounters Xavier. The two teenagers tumble into a furtive, pure-hearted romance even as Xavier’s mom and Juniper’s stepfather, Brad, a slick operator who runs a successful HVAC business and has secrets of his own, lock horns in a legal battle over a dying tree. As the novel builds toward its devastating climax, it nimbly negotiates issues of race and racism, class and gentrification, sex and sexual violence, environmental destruction and other highly charged topics. Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman, 2018, etc.) empathetically conjures nuanced characters we won’t soon forget, expertly weaves together their stories, and imbues the plot with a sense of inevitability and urgency. In the end, she offers an opportunity for catharsis as well as a heartfelt, hopeful call to action.

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled times.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-23727-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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