Truly wonderful and moving tales; the author is a writer to watch.

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DRIFTWOOD: STORIES FROM THE MARGARITA ROAD

This debut collection of short stories features an exotic location populated by believable people.

Paradise Beach is a fictional Mexican town on the Riviera Maya in Quintana Roo, somewhere between Cancún and Tulum. (Head owned a bar and hotel for a decade in Playa del Carmen.) But Paradise Beach is more than a Jimmy Buffett cliché. The atmosphere is real, and certainly the characters and events are inspired by the author’s own sojourn in Mexico—how close they are to the truth doesn’t matter. These are discrete vignettes (though characters sometimes reappear), each prefaced by a short reflection on what one is about to read. The first tale sets the scene with a biographical sketch of Poppa (who appears to be Head’s alter ego). He is the classic expatriate, the footloose drifter who finally landed on this largely unspoiled shore—“living the dream,” in that awful cliché. Some stories are humorous; some are poignant; some defy description. Poppa is sometimes a main actor in these tales but more often a bemused bystander, counselor, or father figure. He holds the book and, it occasionally seems, Paradise Beach together. In a setting such as this, it is hard to avoid clichés, so the work does have ugly American tourists usually staying at the expensive, antiseptic resorts that are becoming more and more common. They venture next door to Paradise Beach and gripe because things do not perfectly match what the travel agent promised. There are also “Margaritaville”-type reflections and paeans to life off the middle-class, money-grubbing grid. While such things come with this idyllic territory, Head keeps them mostly in check.

The author is at his best with tales that may be rooted in the local milieu but are really universal. People fall in love just as often in Albuquerque as in Paradise Beach. The difference—and it is a crucial one—is that Albuquerque is not Edenic, not a place one escapes to and then is forced to take stock of one’s life. This is the moral fulcrum of the finest of the stories, as when Poppa and Lynn Timmons fall in love or when Sadie and Roy break up. Perhaps the strangest tale (“The Old Man in the Sea”) stars not a human character but an old black grouper (seen through Poppa’s eyes). It is a very touching rumination on what this sea creature has seen and suffered in his—starting out as a her—30 years offshore. While the collection offers a bunch of familiar characters, the strongest ones are fully fleshed out, not cardboard cutouts. All stories must end, and the end comes for Paradise Beach in the form of a monster hurricane, Bad-Ass Bertha, that all but levels the little town. Poppa realizes that it would be pointless to try to rebuild his bar. In the end, he and his old friend Chaz sit on the beach in the dark. Chaz, using the allegory of a bullfight and the exhausted beast to discuss the concept of querencia, explains why people like himself and Poppa should move on. Indeed, there is, almost literally, no Paradise Beach anymore. And with that, readers will realize that Paradise Beach is no more real than Macondo or Prospero’s enchanted isle.

Truly wonderful and moving tales; the author is a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73527-810-0

Page Count: 273

Publisher: Luna Blue Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

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TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW

The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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