Haunting, horrifying, tender, and implacable.


A teenage boy in suburban Boston faces his mother's illness and his father's darkness.

Lish, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for his first novel, Preparation for the Next Life (2014), returns with a moody, atmospheric tragedy set in working-class Massachusetts. Gloria Goltz, a "thin, blonde-headed Janis Joplin" with feminist intellectual leanings and literary aspirations, dropped out of Lesley College in Cambridge when she fell under the spell and ultimately bore the son of MIT security guard and self-anointed supergenius Leonard Agoglia, whom she and her friends compare to Good Will Hunting. Though her attachment to Leonard never flagged, even during the many years they barely saw each other, his influence on her life was bleak. "She lost school, love, family, pride…her apartment....The portrait of depression dated from this time." As the book opens, their son, Corey, is 16. His mother, who has been raising him alone all this time, is about to get a diagnosis of ALS, engendering the return of his father to their lives. If that sounds like a nice thing, it definitely isn't—Leonard now definitively reveals himself to be Bad Will Hunting, if any kind of Will Hunting at all. This novel has two sides to its personality—on one side, it's a painfully yet beautifully detailed history of Corey and Gloria and their journey through her illness. (The author's mother was diagnosed with ALS when he was 15, and it seems unlikely that anyone with less immediate experience could have written this book. If you haven't had personal exposure to the disease, you'll learn why it's one of the cruelest ways to die.) On the other hand, in the third act, the novel becomes a Dennis Lehane–ish thriller, with brutal tabloid events piling up almost cartoonishly—but some readers will be too emotionally involved for cartoons at this point. Even those who find themselves rebelling against this aspect of the book will venerate Lish for pushing his vision to the limit and for producing sentences that seem to have been forged in some kind of roaring foundry.

Haunting, horrifying, tender, and implacable.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3232-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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