Full of irony and contradictions, this compilation of contemporary short stories is a worthwhile effort.

DAMAGE CONTROL

Dermont’s short story collection, which follows her debut novel (The Starboard Sea, 2012), demonstrates the author’s versatility and sardonic humor.

The anthology includes 11 previously published stories and three new narratives. A mother and daughter travel to LBJ’s birthplace in “Lyndon” and engage in an unconventional tour that bridges the gulf between them. In the title story, a young man lives with his girlfriend’s mother and runs the family’s school for Southern etiquette while his girlfriend is indicted for securities fraud. This delightful tongue-in-cheek narrative, one of the best in the book, pits old-world manners against modern-day behavior. A woman rents herself out as a companion to elderly travelers following the death of her husband and reflects that, after 46 cruises, travel hasn’t liberated her as it has many of her companions. She also realizes that a recent action she’s committed may be the cause of a current crisis on board the cruise ship. Dermont changes tone in “Sorry, You are Not a Winner,” a narrative that highlights the incongruities between a group of rich, beautiful people playing children’s board games and a young woman who was once a part of the crowd and who now serves as their maid while caring for her terminally ill parents. Questions about faith, family and morality are explored in “The Master of Invoices,” and “Camp” examines amoral behavior among adults who are responsible for reinforcing values in the younger generation. Dermont delivers strong prose and intriguing characters who frequently defy stereotypical ideals. Although a couple of the narratives fail to live up to the high standards the other stories achieve, the overall effect is a tight collection that takes the reader in unexpected, often disconcerting, directions.

Full of irony and contradictions, this compilation of contemporary short stories is a worthwhile effort.

Pub Date: March 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-64281-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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