A sterile account of parallel lives.

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THE MAN WHO DAMMED THE YANGTZE

This so-called mathematical novel from the Chinese-American poet and novelist (A Chinaman's Chance, 2011, etc.) is meta-fiction that tracks two linked characters.

Call them alter egos, call them doppelgängers, or simply call them by their names: G and Ge. G is a Chinese-American man in the U.S.; Ge is a Chinese woman in mainland China. Both are pursuing careers involving finite numbers. How many degrees separate them is a question best left to mathematicians. The key point is that neither cuts the umbilical cord to their creator, or knows the joy of autonomy. When we meet them in 1968, they are young teachers. G is at a small state university in Oshkosh, Wis.; Ge is also a university teacher, changing cities to avoid the state-sanctioned Red Guards, destructive hooligans still in their teens. Ferment in China, ferment in America. G is approached by the Black Student Union; he agrees to be their faculty advisor. There is a brief disturbance in the President’s office; over 100 students are arrested. The last straw comes for G when his department supports the administration; he quits teaching the same time Ge quits, strangers acting in concert. G moves to Pittsburgh to work for Westinghouse, while Ge’s hired by a state planning office, her focus is sedimentation caused by the Three Gorges Project. Dams in China, dams in America, as seen by two mathematicians with a shared social conscience. Ge concludes Three Gorges represents “vanity and greed”; G obsesses about the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, “that has turned the environment…to shit.” The mathematical novel merges with the hydrodynamics novel. There is no plot, but there is a point of view, a humanist aversion to the arrogance of power, whether implemented by corporations or the state. The meta-fictional quirks, when the veil separating author and reader disappears, don’t amount to much. The novel ends with G and Ge working on papers with identical titles for an international conference on numbers.

A sterile account of parallel lives. 

Pub Date: June 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-988-19195-6-4

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Haven Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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