Jokes lubricate a moving and occasionally preposterous story of love and death in the Antarctic cold.

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SOUTH POLE STATION

In the messy human petri dish at the South Pole, a comic novel brews.

Shelby begins her smart and inventive first novel with 11 italicized questions plucked from a psychiatric evaluation: "Are you often sad? Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority?..."Any American headed to Antarctica in 2003 via the National Science Foundation must answer them. It’s a nifty way to unpack character and signal why her heroine, Cooper Gosling, has passed only provisionally. Cooper is 30, a drinker and a fine arts painter from the upper Midwest, a smartass who holds that “hotdish had never received its gastronomic due and the fake Minnesota accents in Fargo were the blackface of regional phonology.” Fetching and witty, Cooper becomes the station chief’s favorite and irresistible to a tall and handsome astrophysicist. Their attraction—one of the novel’s key pleasures—is telegraphed within the first few pages. Readers also learn early that Cooper is fleeing the sorrow of her twin’s recent suicide; she carries a pinch of his ashes in a travel-size Tylenol bottle. Thus, Shelby balances Eros with Thanatos in a story composed of barbed dialogue, email, and official memos. A climate-change skeptic arrives to bedevil the polar community, hatching a far-fetched political conspiracy. Clearly, the writer likes agita—politics mixed with science fuels Red River Rising (2004), her nonfiction book about the catastrophic 1997 flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She writes well about science and the peculiar, pressurized human ecosystem at the bottom of the world. Bozer, a polar station construction chief, gets his own point-of-view chapter, and it lifts him from caricature to one of the best aspects of the book. Hovering over all is Cooper’s sort-of “spirit animal,” the British explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who wrote the Antarctica classic The Worst Journey in the World. This new book would no doubt confound him but, in the end, bring him delight.

Jokes lubricate a moving and occasionally preposterous story of love and death in the Antarctic cold.

Pub Date: July 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-11282-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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