A book with lots of laughs that's also very bleak.

FLATSCREEN

A frequently funny subversion of the coming-of-age story, though there’s a pervasive sadness underlying the comic.

This promising debut novel sustains itself through the strength of its voice—the first-person narration of Eli Schwartz and the distinctive voice of author Wilson. A pudgy, jobless, stay-at-home 20-year-old with a passion for cooking and an ambivalence toward sex, Eli describes himself as “a glorified townie without the glory. No rugged good looks or blue-collar gas-station-employee pride. No fading memory of a football career. No greaser girlfriend, legs thick and strong like the twin pistons on my (nonexistent) restored Camaro.” Eli might easily be described as a loser and a stoner, but the novel seduces the reader into identifying with him, caring about him, rather than treating him (as some others do) as an object of ridicule. “I’m a good soul who’s gone a bit off the deep end,” he explains. His well-to-do father left his mother for a second marriage and family and took his standard of living with him. His older brother left for college, keeping Eli in a claustrophobic relationship with the mother who encourages it (at least until she also discovers life beyond Eli and threatens to leave as well). The plot’s pivotal encounter involves Seymour Kahn, a veteran actor whose roles have diminished because he's in a wheelchair but whose sexual appetite remains omnivorous. Kahn enters Eli’s life as a surrogate father, potential lover, sexual procurer and/or drug buddy, after he becomes interested in buying the family home that Eli’s mother needs to sell. The repressed, apathetic Eli and the profane, uninhibited Kahn make for an odd couple, though Eli acknowledges, “I’m afraid of becoming Kahn, but part of me knows I’m already Kahn, that he’s the part of me I want to keep away from the world. I think Kahn might be in love with me.” Though the voice is strong and the characters indelible, the author rejects the resolution of a typical rite of passage. Instead, it doesn’t offer much resolution at all (except for Kahn), as Eli conjures 20 possible endings, committing to none.

A book with lots of laughs that's also very bleak.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-209033-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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