A voyage of discovery cloaked in suburban ennui: engaging and hard to let go.

HOW TO BE LOST

An obsession with, or desire to forget, a long-missing child keeps a family trapped like flies in amber.

It’s the stuff of tabloid TV or heartbreaking features in the weekend paper, but the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of a young girl from a picture-perfect suburban family can still make for good fiction. Here, Ward (Sleep Toward Heaven, 2003) presents us with the Winters family (never mind the slightly melodramatic name), a messed-up bundle of upstate New York Wasps who have never quite recovered from the day when the youngest of three daughters, five-year-old Ellie, went missing after school and was never heard from again. Both of her sisters, repressed Madeline with her Wall Street broker husband, and self-consciously slumming Caroline—once a pianist with a gold pass to Juilliard and now a dozy cocktail waitress at a revolving bar in New Orleans—blame themselves for what happened. The mother, widowed now after despair, anger, and drink took her husband, lives alone with her odd rituals and fanatic questing, 15 years later, still to find her Ellie. Most of the story is observed by Caroline, a noncommittal walking zombie and not the most thrilling of hosts through this emotionally frozen world. Things slide downhill even more when she insists on taking up her mother’s search by going to Montana in search of a girl in a magazine photo whom the two of them are convinced is Ellie. Not surprisingly, things don’t turn out as planned, but not far from the end Ward turns the tables, bringing together two other seemingly unrelated narrative strands into a walloping knockout of a finisher that would seem like a cheap trick if it weren’t so thrilling. The author plays a smooth game, not showing her hand until the absolute right time, just when you were about to give up on a seemingly hopeless case.

A voyage of discovery cloaked in suburban ennui: engaging and hard to let go.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2004

ISBN: 1-931561-72-9

Page Count: 300

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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