Vivid in its details, but the self-consciously intellectual narrative fails to engage.

READ REVIEW

MINOR ANGELS

Dreamlike fragmentary chapters evoke a bleak post-apocalypse world, one where capitalism is the enemy and the collective the ideal.

Noted French author Volodine (Naming the Jungle, 1996, etc.) is better at describing the desolate world he evokes than at making the plight of his characters credible—or the ideas that ostensibly shape his ambitious tale. Each of the 49 short chapters, called “narracts—novelistic snapshot(s),” has to do with a brief incident involving one of 49 different characters, whose lives occasionally intersect. These people inhabit a world devastated by a disaster that’s never precisely defined, though the implications are that it had to do with nuclear fission. The disaster, in any case, has left the world with a minuscule population, a Mars-like landscape, and a food shortage. Survivors rear chickens in abandoned apartments, head out to cities where explorers retreat to their winter camp at “number 12 on the Rue du Cormatin,” or follow abandoned rail tracks that hug the shoreline. The third “narract” introduces Laetitia Scheidmann, who, along with the other immortal crones, has been sequestered by veterinarians at the Spotted Wheat Nursing Home. There, though it’s forbidden, she decides to fashion a grandson. She collects scraps of cloth and lint, presses them into an embryonic ball, then fertilizes and gestates it with the help of her fellow crones. They hope that Will, the grandson, will revive radicalism and revolutionary action, but, decades later, Will, instead, has restored capitalism, a crime for which they sentence him to death and order a firing squad to execute him. But before that happens, they are overcome by memories mixed with hallucinations from the pipes they smoke. Will, who develops a hideous skin disease, is the narrator of these stories, told to his grandmothers as the population drastically declines, gas-emitting meteorites become more frequent, and all forms of life begin to die.

Vivid in its details, but the self-consciously intellectual narrative fails to engage.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-8032-4672-2

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more