A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and...

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THE LONGEST NIGHT

Scintillating marital drama set at a nuclear testing station in the late 1950s.

Paul Collier is an enlisted man who grew up poor and gambles that a new career as a nuclear operator will pay off and be worth uprooting his family from the West Coast to Idaho; he hardly cares if the experimental reactor’s success means American missiles will be able to “hit pay dirt…if the Soviets did anything stupid”—just one of the sore points between him and his wife, Natalie, a California girl whose outspokenness and nonconformity captured him when they were dating but in his current position make him uneasy. Her husband's soldierly reticence about his colleagues' behavior on and off the test site backfires and drives Nat into a more-than-confiding friendship with a local cowboy named Esrom. Readers are also treated to the hilarious musings of Jeannie Richards—the wife of Paul’s new boss, Mitch; her job is to keep her scurrilous silver-haired spouse from botching his retirement payout. Williams keeps the narrative interest percolating with great period details and by allowing her characters' thoughts and emotions full expression—Jeannie lays out battle dress before a dinner welcoming her husband’s new man (“a bra that would catapult her little ladies upward like rocket boosters”), but Mitch himself keeps undermining her Borgia-esque ambitions. Paul’s buttoned-up personality frustrates the hell out of Nat, but her daredevil nature, even as a mother of young children, confounds him more: "He'd had to sit by and watch strangers cheer her on for something he'd not wanted her to do, as if their approval was more important than his concern.” Meantime, plunked alongside potato fields and cattle ranches, other reactors (human and atomic) threaten to blow their stacks. Spoiler alert: a major mishap is all but promised in the prologue, and the afterword describing the nation's only fatal accident at a reactor will send some readers to look up Idaho’s role in American nuclear history.

A smoldering, altogether impressive debut that probes the social and emotional strains on military families in a fresh and insightful way.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9774-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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