Nimble prose and an ironic but not smart-alecky stance keep this story moving along nicely—a promising start.

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LADY LAZARUS

A post-postmodern rock ’n’ roll novel, entertaining and surprisingly elegant.

The title notwithstanding, the tutelary spirit of this suicide-rich novel is not Sylvia Plath but David Foster Wallace, to whom debut novelist Altschul owes the judicious use of the sometimes parodic footnote. Both drink from the well of Gravity’s Rainbow, but there’s a lot of sly reference to the everyday pop culture and the vernacular of our times along with all the learned literariness, as when the book’s heroine, young Calliope Bird Morath, takes on Charlie Rose (“Wow. You don’t waste any time, do you?”), and when their travels find some of the dramatis personae on a Garpian book tour (“Books! All this attention to books! Not politicians, not teenybopper pop-stars, not that dreadful Brad Pitt: a writer…I was so excited, it was all I could do not to strip naked and run around Courthouse Square.”). As if that were not enough, underlying it all is the lovely framework of The Odyssey. The story opens with Calliope’s recounting the suicide of her father, a famous punk rocker, and the devastating effect of the death on her mother, herself perhaps descended from rock royalty—though not, as rumor has it, “illegitimate offspring of a groupie and the drummer of the MC5.” But did Dad really leave the planet? Calliope, a silent songbird who slowly finds her expression, come adolescence, in brittle poetry, thinks not, as she tells the perplexed, aforementioned Rose; likening herself to Telemachus and her mother to Penelope, she sets off on a strange quest to find him among the lotus-eaters. The footnotes fly, the pop-culture references and allusions (Kim Deal, Beavis and Butthead, the collected works of Dave Eggers) come ever faster, and Calliope makes her way through the world, her tale narrated by both herself and a not-so-omniscient, inquisitive author who relies on eavesdropping and other subterfuge to come by his information—a modern trope if ever there was one.

Nimble prose and an ironic but not smart-alecky stance keep this story moving along nicely—a promising start.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-15-101484-2

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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