Agreeable entertainment until the ridiculous denouement.

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MARY ANN IN AUTUMN

Maupin continues his popular Tales of the City saga (Michael Tolliver Lives, 2007, etc.) with the return to San Francisco of Mary Ann Singleton after 20 years in the cushy Connecticut suburbs.

She’s caught her retired-CEO husband cheating via Skype, and she’s been diagnosed with uterine cancer, so Mary Ann heads west to take refuge with Michael, her former housemate from 28 Barbary Lane, and his much-younger husband Ben. Lesbian buddies DeDe and D’or find Mary Ann a female oncologist, and while she’s waiting for surgery, Ben gets her onto Facebook so she can reconnect with people who knew her as a local TV celebrity back in the '80s. Meanwhile, Shawna, the adopted daughter Mary Ann left with ex-husband Brian when she moved east, is looking to expand her popular Grrrl on the Loose blog into subjects beyond sex. Jake, Michael’s transgendered partner in his gardening firm, doesn’t have the money to complete the transition from female to male because business is lousy following the economic meltdown, though San Francisco’s bohemians are hopeful following Obama’s election. And Cliff, Ben’s casual acquaintance from the dog park, is brooding over something Ben would rather not know about, since the elderly drunk clearly has serious personal problems. Maupin’s chronicle of interconnected lives and tangled personal relations is as engaging and warmhearted as ever, but he’s more careless than usual with structure. Shawna fixates on a drug-addicted, mentally ill homeless woman who proves to be linked to the Barbary Lane past via an outrageous plot twist that also connects a creepy Facebook "friend" of Mary Ann’s with a pedophile she once knew—who turns up toting a gun. Maupin should have trusted his fallible, lovable characters to sustain our interest; resorting to such a luridly melodramatic device detracts from the pleasure of reacquainting ourselves with them.

Agreeable entertainment until the ridiculous denouement.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-147088-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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