More predictable and less profound than her most recent full-scale work (the magical A Spool of Blue Thread, 2015), but...

CLOCK DANCE

After a lightweight foray into rewriting Shakespeare (Vinegar Girl, 2016, etc.), Tyler returns to her tried-and-true theme of family life’s emotionally charged complexities.

Eleven-year-old Willa Drake doesn’t really understand the fraught interchanges between her volatile mother and maddeningly mild-mannered father that roil the novel’s opening chapter, set in Pennsylvania in 1967. But as the action leapfrogs to 1977 and she impulsively decides to marry college boyfriend Derek after he stands up to her mother on their first meeting, we see that, in a world of self-dramatizers and placaters, Willa has unconsciously decided to be a placater. The chapter detailing Derek’s death in a California road-rage incident in 1997 suggests that Willa’s placatory pattern is firmly set, an impression buttressed as Part II begins with 61-year-old Willa now married to Peter, another man who patronizes her and expects her to cater to his every whim. But then comes a phone call from Baltimore, where her son’s ex-girlfriend Denise has been hospitalized with a broken leg after a mysterious shooting incident by a neighbor under the mistaken impression that Denise’s daughter is Willa’s granddaughter. This brazenly schematic setup for Willa’s late-life regeneration is redeemed by the fact that it’s utterly characteristic of our maddeningly mild-mannered heroine that she not only doesn’t correct the misunderstanding, but gets on a plane to Baltimore, with Peter in tow complaining all the way. Power dynamics are never simple in Tyler’s portraits of marriage, and when Willa needs to, she quietly gets what she wants. As she gets to know Denise’s prematurely mature daughter, Cheryl, and the array of eccentric folks on their slightly seedy block—all vibrantly portrayed with Tyler’s usual low-key gusto and bracingly dark humor—readers will want Willa to see that others appreciate her sly wit and tolerant acceptance of people’s foibles as whiny Peter does not. But will she? Tyler drags out the suspense a tad longer than the slight plot merits.

More predictable and less profound than her most recent full-scale work (the magical A Spool of Blue Thread, 2015), but Tyler’s characteristic warmth and affection for her characters are as engaging as ever.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52122-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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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  • National Book Award Finalist

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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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