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ALTERNATE SIDE

There’s insight here—about the precariousness of even the most stable-seeming marriages—and some charm, but the novel is not...

A Manhattan comedy of manners with a melancholy undertow.

The vagaries of parking in New York City figure prominently in Quindlen’s ninth novel, which begins with a moment of parking karma: Charlie Nolan has just scored a permanent spot in the small outdoor lot on his Upper West Side block. Charlie, an investment banker, and his wife, Nora, who runs a jewelry museum, live in a town house surrounded by other town houses owned by affluent types much like themselves; the only blight on the block is a single-room-occupancy building. The Nolans have been married for almost 25 years—not unhappily, not quite serenely—and are parents of college-age twins. Nothing much happens in the first 100 pages or so, but the author’s amusing digressions—on dogs, rats, parking tickets, housing prices, and other city obsessions—keep things moving. Then a violent act shatters the calm on the Nolans’ block: Hot-tempered Jack Fisk, partner in a white-shoe law firm, takes a golf club to mild-mannered Ricky Ramos, the neighborhood handyman, who’s had the temerity to block the entrance to the parking lot with his van. And simmering issues of race and class boil over. (Earlier, when Nora visits Ricky at his home in the Bronx—getting lost, of course, on the way—there’s a whiff of Bonfire of the Vanities.) The golf-club incident also has consequences for the Nolan family. The title of the book, it turns out, doesn’t just refer to parking. Quindlen’s sendup of entitled Manhattanites is fun but familiar. And though the author has been justly praised for her richly imagined female characters, Nora can seem more a type than a full-bodied woman.

There’s insight here—about the precariousness of even the most stable-seeming marriages—and some charm, but the novel is not on a par with Quindlen’s best.

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9606-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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