Despite flickers of optimism, this is a somber collection pondering mortality, fate, and the unknowability of others.

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THE ACCOMPLISHED GUEST

The John Cheever of her generation, Beattie (The State We’re In: Maine Stories, 2015, etc.) has long chronicled the emotional foibles of upper-middle-class WASPs with sharply chiseled wit; in these 13 new stories, travel or a visit of some sort is the common thread, mortality the common theme.

The settings are along the East Coast with an emphasis on favorite Beattie locales Key West and Maine. Her characters, even those who have fallen in status, are well-educated and of nominally liberal political persuasion. While elderly characters predominate, the middle-aged and younger face their own regrets. In “Anecdotes,” elderly, self-centered Lucia’s story of passion shocks her daughter Christine’s friend Anna into mitigating pain she and Christine may have caused a shared lover’s wife years earlier. In “Other People’s Birthdays,” 40-something Lawry visits her parents and sister Bett for Bett’s birthday and witnesses the burden her parents carry in managing the mentally ill Bett’s care. In two stories, young women travel to visit older men they admire—a former professor in the case of “The Indian Uprising”; in “The Cloud,” a beloved uncle—only to realize the men are privately confronting fatal illnesses and are beyond the women’s help. Another professor hosting former students fears he’s dying in “Company.” Eighty-year-old Gerald, attending a Manhattan Christmas party in “For the Best,” and wheelchair-bound Alva, attending a Key West Christmas party in “Lady Neptune,” both feel perplexed that life has passed them by. But the unnamed 80-year-old narrator of “The Gypsy Chooses the Whatever Card” performs a good deed for a younger woman and is rewarded with moments of unexpected excitement. In the charming “Hoodie in Xanadu,” an elderly Key West widow forms an unexpected partnership with her agoraphobic neighbor, who has transformed his living room into a secret Xanadu. The middle-aged former frat brothers in “The Debt,” perhaps the volume’s darkest story, confront how “debased” their lives have become during a trip to Key West that ends in tawdry violence.

Despite flickers of optimism, this is a somber collection pondering mortality, fate, and the unknowability of others.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1138-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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