An intelligent prequel packed with enjoyable Austen references, hampered somewhat by underdeveloped characterization.

SUSAN

A JANE AUSTEN PREQUEL

A Jane Austen pastiche involving a disgraced young lady, amateur theatricals, and matrimonial machinations.

Disliking her dull lessons, 16-year-old Susan Smithson is more pleased than saddened to be dismissed from school after allowing the music master to kiss her hand. As an orphan possessing a great deal of beauty but no fortune, Susan is dependent on the generosity of her uncle, George Collins, who’s redoubled his determination to make her “thoughtful, quiet and obedient.” At first, things go well: Susan manages to behave, meets some attractive gentlemen, and is given a new gown by a rich widow. The young woman even charms the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who’s now visiting London. But a further indiscretion with the rakish Mr. Oliver is the last straw, so Susan is sent to Hunsford to stay at the country parsonage of her tiresome uncle, the Rev. William Collins, and her Aunt Charlotte; at least her shy cousin and friend, Alicia, will be there. Lady Catherine is the clergyman’s patroness, and on returning to her country estate, she gives Susan further chances to ingratiate herself. Susan gets to know the local gentry and their set, including Frank Churchill (from Emma), the Johnson family, and their guest, the heiress Miss Richardson. After noticing that Alicia and young Henry Johnson share an attraction, Susan hits upon a scheme to bring them together: putting on a play. Using her skills at reading people and quietly manipulating them, she convinces Henry to hold amateur theatricals. Onstage and off, there’s much life-changing drama—including proposals, an elopement, and a death. Although its events take place sometime after Pride and Prejudice (and include some of that novel’s characters), McVeigh calls her debut a “Jane Austen Prequel” in that it tells the origin story of the title character in Austen’s unfinished work Lady Susan. By the time the latter novel opens, Lady Susan Vernon is a widow in her mid-30s, and although she’s beautiful and charming, she’s a cold, scheming, and shameless seductress. McVeigh introduces a much milder Susan, even if she is manipulative and self-involved. But it isn’t easy for readers to see how she’ll become the older version, as there’s little Austenian character development in these pages. Whatever Susan’s future, McVeigh portrays her as much the same person at the end of this novel as at its beginning—possibly because the young woman has no real obstacles to overcome or any foil to challenge her perceptions. This contrasts with how Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet is challenged to reconsider her judgments of Mr. Darcy, or how the timid Fanny Price must stand up for herself against Henry Crawford’s determined courtship in Mansfield Park. All Susan has to do is wait out her forced exile from London. Undeniably, though, McVeigh displays a brilliant, spot-on command of Austen’s diction and tone, as well as familiar phrases, as in the observation that “nothing is more fragile than a lady’s good name—for that, once lost, is lost forever.”

An intelligent prequel packed with enjoyable Austen references, hampered somewhat by underdeveloped characterization.

Pub Date: June 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-916882-31-7

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Warleigh Hall Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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