A landmark portrait of toxic parenting and its tangled aftermath.

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BURNT SUGAR

Dark emotions color a daughter’s complex connection to her mother in a striking first novel that delves deep into family bonds.

“I would be lying if I said my mother’s misery has never given me pleasure.” This is the devastating opening sentence of American writer Doshi’s provocative debut, which offers a fierce, compelling depiction of the painfully intertwined lives of a mother and daughter in Pune, India. Tara, the mother, was neglectful and careless; Antara, the daughter, will become her unwilling but affixed life companion. Abandoning a gloomy marriage to join an ashram and become the lover of Baba, its leader, Tara exhibits a pattern of inadequate parenting that continues, four years later, when Baba replaces her with a younger model. Tara and Antara, now 7, are next to be found begging outside the Club in Pune, eventually to be rescued by Antara’s father, who, meanwhile, has divorced Tara and is remarrying. These and other episodes from the past—including Tara’s later love affair with an unreliable artist and Antara’s lonely months spent at an abusive boarding school—are sandwiched between slices of the contemporary narrative. Here Tara is sliding into dementia and Antara, comfortably married to Dilip, is trying to care for the parent whose care of her was so disastrous. Antara’s voice is frank, skeptical, even comical while exposing the fragile psychology life has dealt her. Above all, she scrutinizes the unbreakable/unbearable link to a figure who haunts and half subsumes her, a razor’s edge which Doshi captures in simple, effective prose: “Even now, when I…want to be without her, when I know her presence is the source of my unhappiness—that learned longing still rises, that craving for soft, white cotton that has frayed at the edge.”

A landmark portrait of toxic parenting and its tangled aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4197-5292-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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