Smart, complex stories that can on occasion feel diffuse but that never fail to hold the reader's interest.



From veteran Melnyczuk, a collection of nine stories that often explore the links between the lusty and the high-minded and that make an argument for their being not opposing values but flip sides of a coin.

The genius loci of the book is Nikolai Gogol, who figures explicitly in the last two stories (the finale, "Gogol's Noose," is a biographical "fantasia," as the author calls it) and whose fascination with the links between the familiar and the grotesque, the real and the irreal or surreal, is everywhere explored and echoed. Several stories move between the New World and the Old (especially Russia and Ukraine); this is most impressively the case in the title story, which begins with the Romanovs and then ranges forward by generations, morphing eventually into an American immigrant tale. "Termites" tells of a blocked American writer who goes to the Middle East in search of something he can't quite name or even look at squarely, and in "Walk With Us," perhaps the most conventionally successful story, an elderly mother musingly prepares for a prison visit with her daughter, a soldier guilty of torturing prisoners. In "Embodiment," a middle-aged actor recounts the lusts and loves that have brought him, over the decades since college, to his current predicament—mother dying, wife having decamped—and asks, "Why? To what end? Why have you been embodied?" The stories tend to be discursive and philosophical-minded, but always with a powerful link to the physical, to the tactile, homely real. "The Criminal Element" describes a scheme to kidnap a priest, but in the end it turns out that the narrator's investment in that grand plot is half-hearted; what he really cares about is the wife who's abandoned him, the way, as he puts it, his life keeps "shining through the fray of theory." The story starts with highfalutin anarchy but ends, characteristically, with the sights and sounds of the everyday: the whir of the deli slicer, a fleeting lust for the woman who operates it.

Smart, complex stories that can on occasion feel diffuse but that never fail to hold the reader's interest.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-874400-83-7

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Grand Iota

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.


Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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