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THE DAYS OF AFREKETE

What starts out a smoothly entertaining social satire turns out to expect a little work from you, dear reader.

As failure and shame threaten to demolish her world, a Black woman throws a dinner party...and thinks wistfully about her past.

Known as "The Wolf" by her sister lesbians at Bryn Mawr 20 years ago, Liselle is now married to a White man, a lawyer-turned-politician named Winn Anderson. Winn has just lost an election for the state legislature, and Liselle has planned a dinner party as a last hurrah for their biggest supporters. Her doubts about the evening are compounded by the fear that her husband will be hauled away by the FBI before dessert; though he doesn't know it yet, she's been told he may soon be indicted for corruption. Set in the author's hometown of Philadelphia, this novel—part social satire, part character study—takes its title from a trickster in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982). Liselle read Lorde her senior year of college, during her brief affair with a woman named Selena Octave. Though they haven't seen each other in years, the pile-up of disappointments in Liselle's life inspires her to call and leave a one-word message for her old friend. Solomon excels at ironic description—one character has "the look of someone who had aged out of playing the rich jerk in an eighties teen movie"—and builds further ironies into her depiction of race and class. While Liselle is often called Lisa, Lisette, Liesl, etc., she herself is afraid to say aloud the name of the woman helping her in the kitchen, Xochitl. In contemplating the conversational possibilities of the gathering, she thinks, “There was so much lying all the time, particularly when you got together with people who were not Black. Bland observations about schools, neighborhoods, and the words 'kids' and 'safe' and 'family' tried to cover up a landscape of volcanos oozing with blood, pus, and shit.” The last page of the book will leave you stunned. Solomon's decision about where to end her dinner party puts her in a lineage of modernist party hosts like Woolf and Proust.

What starts out a smoothly entertaining social satire turns out to expect a little work from you, dear reader.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-14005-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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