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HAPPINESS FALLS

The claim that a book will change your life often seems like exaggeration. Here the potential is real.

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When her father disappears, 20-year-old Mia Parkson cannot ask the one person who knows what happened—her brother, who does not speak.

After Miracle Creek (2019), the title of Kim’s second novel could make it seem to be part of a series—and thematically, it is, again combining an exploration of neurodiversity and its effects on family dynamics with a mystery, in this case a missing person story, again set in the Northern Virginia suburbs, again with a smart woman lawyer named Shannon Haug on the scene to make brilliant charts. Here, Kim has done even more with what are now clearly her signature materials by nesting this whole situation inside the philosophical question of what creates happiness, one which the missing man, Adam Parson, was privately studying in notebooks documenting his research and experimentation (most of it on his own family). All of this comes to us through the narrator, his daughter, Mia, a brilliant, acerbic chatterbox whose relentless analysis spills from long, ropy sentences into parentheticals and footnotes that lasso the reader into turning the pages. Listen to her: “Labeling anything about our family ‘typical’—I just have to shake my head. I’m not even thinking about the typical-adjacent stuff like John’s and my boy-girl twin thing, our biracial mix (Korean and white), untraditional parental gender roles (working mom, stay-at-home dad), or different last names (Parson for Dad + Park for Mom = mashed up into Parkson for us kids)....Where we’re in­dubitably, inherently atypical is with my little brother Eugene’s dual diagnosis: autism and a rare genetic disorder called mosaic Angel­man syndrome (AS), which means he can’t talk, has motor difficul­ties, and—this is what fascinates many people who’ve never heard of AS—has an unusually happy demeanor with frequent smiles and laughter.” Got all that? Mia is an amazing creation, as is Eugene. But what is most remarkable about this book is the way Mia's father’s “happiness quotient” theory ripples not just through the plot of the novel, but through the life of the reader.

The claim that a book will change your life often seems like exaggeration. Here the potential is real.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2023

ISBN: 9780593448205

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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ALL FOURS

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

A woman set to embark on a cross-country road trip instead drives to a nearby motel and becomes obsessed with a local man.

According to Harris, the husband of the narrator of July’s novel, everyone in life is either a Parker or a Driver. “Drivers,” Harris says, “are able to maintain awareness and engagement even when life is boring.” The narrator knows she’s a Parker, someone who needs “a discrete task that seems impossible, something…for which they might receive applause.” For the narrator, a “semi-famous” bisexual woman in her mid-40s living in Los Angeles, this task is her art; it’s only by haphazard chance that she’s fallen into a traditional straight marriage and motherhood. When the narrator needs to be in New York for work, she decides on a solo road trip as a way of forcing herself to be more of a metaphorical Driver. She makes it all of 30 minutes when, for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she pulls over in Monrovia. After encountering a man who wipes her windows at a gas station and then chats with her at the local diner, she checks in to a motel, where she begins an all-consuming intimacy with him. For the first time in her life, she feels truly present. But she can only pretend to travel so long before she must go home and figure out how to live the rest of a life that she—that any woman in midlife—has no map for. July’s novel is a characteristically witty, startlingly intimate take on Dante’s “In the middle of life’s journey, I found myself in a dark wood”—if the dark wood were the WebMD site for menopause and a cheap room at the Excelsior Motel.

This tender, strange treatise on getting out from the “prefab structures” of a conventional life is quintessentially July.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 9780593190265

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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