Alexis' (The Hidden Keys, 2016, etc.) tale of two men's search for a long-missing poet is a surreal adventure through Canada's fraught racial history.

Alfred Homer, a botanist at a private firm in Toronto, is grieving the first anniversary of his parents' deaths in a car accident. Even worse, his partner, Anne, has decided she doesn't want to marry him. As Alfred recovers from the dissolution of three relationships, relief arrives unexpectedly: Professor Morgan Bruno, an eccentric literary scholar and friend of his parents, calls to invite him on a research project. Bruno studies the poet John Skennen, a writer with the "talent of an angel" who mysteriously stopped publishing in the late 1990s. By driving from Toronto to the Ontario town of Feversham and visiting various small towns in between, Bruno hopes to gather details that will help him finish his biography on the lost poet. Alfred figures the trip will be a relaxing vacation. Besides, he's heard tell that oniaten, a rare plant with mysterious qualities, has been sighted on the outskirts of Feversham. The journey turns out to be an uncanny trip through a bizarre alternate-reality version of Canada. In honor of Canada's white pioneers, the town of Nobleton hosts an annual house-burning celebration, during which crowds watch local families struggle to save their homes from the flames. In neighboring Coulson's Hill, an "Indigenous Parade" offers up meager reparations for the harm Canada's First Nations suffered at the hands of those same white pioneers. Meanwhile, the town of Schomberg hosts a black population that speaks almost entirely in sign language—the legacy of a law that banned freed American slaves from speaking aloud within the town's limits. Over the course of Alfred's journey, the book reveals itself to be a critique of Canada's white supremacist underpinnings. "I don't suppose any place reveals itself to you all at once," Alfred reflects at one point. "It comes at you in waves of associative detail." This book feels like a wave of associative detail which Alexis uses to satirize a racial history that is stranger than fiction. As the novel drags on, though, it begins to feel rudderless; the search for Skennen comes to feel like a thin premise on which to hang a string of surrealist gags. By the time Alfred and Bruno approach a mystical fate in Feversham, the reader has lost any investment in them or their journey.

Funny but thin.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-55245-379-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coach House Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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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.


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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