Haunting, horrifying, tender, and implacable.

THE WAR FOR GLORIA

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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

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THE SENTENCE

The most recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction—for The Night Watchman (2020)—turns her eye to various kinds of hauntings, all of which feel quite real to the affected characters.

Erdrich is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis and, in this often funny novel, the favorite bookstore of Flora, one of narrator Tookie’s “most annoying customers.” Flora wants to be thought of as Indigenous, a “very persistent wannabe” in the assessment of Tookie, who's Ojibwe. Flora appears at the store one day with a photo of her great-grandmother, claiming the woman was ashamed of being Indian: “The picture of the woman looked Indianesque, or she might have just been in a bad mood,” Tookie decides. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day 2019 with a book splayed next to her—she didn't have time to put a bookmark in it—but she continues shuffling through the store’s aisles even after her cremation. Tookie is recently out of prison for transporting a corpse across state lines, which would have netted her $26,000 had she not been ratted out and had the body not had crack cocaine duct-taped to its armpits, a mere technicality of which Tookie was unaware. Tookie is also unaware that Flora considered Tookie to be her best friend and thus sticks to her like glue in the afterlife, even smacking a book from the fiction section onto the floor during a staff meeting at Birchbark. The novel’s humor is mordant: “Small bookstores have the romance of doomed intimate spaces about to be erased by unfettered capitalism.” The characters are also haunted by the George Floyd murder, which occurred in Minneapolis; they wrestle with generations of racism against Black and Indigenous Americans. Erdrich’s love for bookselling is clear, as is her complicated affection for Minneapolis and the people who fight to overcome institutional hatred and racism.

A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-267112-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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