A strange, beguiling collection about the perils of desire in all its forms.

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THE FOOL

AND OTHER MORAL TALES

In three mysterious tales, Serre explores the moral implications of self-destructive impulses, storytelling, and sexual taboo.

Serre (The Governesses, 2018), one of France's finest fabulists, returns in full force in this slim, freshly translated collection. In "The Fool," an unnamed narrator considers the first card in the Major Arcana of the tarot, linking the image to her drive for self-destruction and her ability to fall in and out of love. Caught between "fear and ecstasy, ecstasy and fear," she knows only too well how to keep this rapturous back and forth at bay—and how to call it down upon herself. In "The Narrator," the subject of storytelling is debated by friends vacationing in a chalet. With her customary wit, Serre has created two competing narrators—the title character, who has no control over the story he's in, and the narrator of the story itself, who dishes up metacommentary on the morality of narration: "To feel holier-than-thou with your precious images, yes, yes, that's all very fine. But to feel smug simply because you're alone, simply because you're different from others and in possession of a secret—morally, that's not so good." As characters discover how they've been portrayed throughout the story, they begin to revolt, pushing the title character to give up his power as a storyteller in order to live in the world. But the crown jewel of this collection is the perverse, absurd, and affecting story "The Wishing Table," in which a young woman looks back on her childhood as a member of an incestuous family. Although the narrator rejects the idea of sexual abuse and embraces the "moral chaos" of her upbringing, her social isolation and strangeness permeate her adult relationships. Only after the death of her parents and years of celibacy does she uncover how to marry love with desire by reconciling her past. "[You] had only—as I had always known and believed—to pay close attention for a terrible joy to be born, for a work of art to emerge from your body, your hands, your eyes, your poor broken heart," she thinks at last.

A strange, beguiling collection about the perils of desire in all its forms.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2716-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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