For all the sexual intrigue, Erneste seems a bit like a Camus character in a Thomas Mann setting.

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A PERFECT WAITER

This short, evocative novel combines a romantic melodrama of homosexual love and betrayal with deeper meditations on the passage of time, the essence of truth, the deception of desire and the inevitability of death.

Originally published in Germany in 2004, this is the first novel by the veteran Alsatian author to be translated into English. The “perfect waiter” of the title is Erneste, who has spent his life serving guests at a Swiss resort hotel after his sexuality estranged him from most of his family. With the approach of World War II, an irresistibly attractive young German named Jakob arrives to work at the hotel. Though Erneste has long kept the guests, his fellow employees, even life itself at what he considers an appropriate distance, he can’t keep his eyes off Jakob. And then his hands, though it isn’t until the more impetuous Jakob makes a reckless advance that Erneste becomes his lover as well as his roommate and mentor. The ambitious Jakob quickly joins Erneste in the dining room, where they are careful to keep their relationship secret. The narrative alternates between the mid-1930s, when the two began their seemingly insatiable relationship, and the mid-1960s, when Erneste hears for the first time in 30 years from Jakob, who had abandoned him almost as abruptly as he seduced him. The opportunistic Jakob had attracted a hotel guest, prosperous German novelist Julius Klinger. Two desperate letters from Jakob (now “Jack,” apparently on his own in New York) bring Erneste and Julius together. The extent of Jakob’s duplicity comes as a shock to the impeccably mannered, brokenhearted waiter. Had Jakob ever loved either man? Was sex simply bait or a bargaining chip for him? Did either of the men he seduced for his own advancement know Jakob at all, or had desire blinded them both?

For all the sexual intrigue, Erneste seems a bit like a Camus character in a Thomas Mann setting.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59691-411-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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