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TOM LAKE

Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett’s stature as one of our finest novelists.

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It’s time to harvest the cherries from their Michigan orchard, but the pandemic means that Joe Nelson; his wife, Lara; and their daughters, Emily, Maisie, and Nell, must pick all the fruit themselves.

To lighten the lengthy, grueling workdays, and prompted by the recent death of world-famous actor Peter Duke, the girls press Lara to tell them about her romance with Duke at Tom Lake, a summer stock company in Michigan, and her decision to give up acting after one big movie role. Lara’s reminiscences, peppered by feisty comments from her daughters and periodic appearances by her gentle, steadfast husband, provide the foundation for Patchett’s moving portrait of a woman looking back at a formative period in her life and sharing some—but only some—of it with her children. Duke flashes across her recollections as a wildly talented, nakedly ambitious, and extremely crazy young man clearly headed for stardom, but the real interest in this portion of the novel lies in Patchett’s delicate delineation of Lara’s dawning realization that, fine as she is as Emily in Our Town, she has a limited talent and lacks the drive that propels Duke and her friend and understudy Pallas. The fact that Pallas, who's Black, doesn’t get the break that Duke does is one strand in Patchett’s intricate and subtle thematic web, which also enfolds the nature of storytelling, the evolving dynamics of a family, and the complex interaction between destiny and choice. Lara’s daughters are standouts among the sharply dawn characterizations: once-volatile Emily, now settled down to be the heir apparent to the farm; no-nonsense veterinarian-in-training Maisie; and Nell, the aspiring actor and unerring observer who anticipates every turn in her mother’s tale. Patchett expertly handles her layered plot, embedding one charming revelation and one brutal (but in retrospect inevitable) betrayal into a dual narrative that deftly maintains readers’ interest in both the past and present action. These braided strands culminate in a denouement at once deeply sad and tenderly life-affirming.

Poignant and reflective, cementing Patchett’s stature as one of our finest novelists.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2023

ISBN: 9780063327528

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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