A delicious love letter to readers and co-conspirators everywhere.

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THE GIFT

In this exquisite meditation on gift-giving, intimacy, the body, and performance, Browning (I’m Trying to Reach You, 2012, etc.) dashes the boundaries between autofiction and novel and offers daring readers something more intimate and muscular than a mere book.

Barbara Andersen, a clear stand-in for Browning, teaches performance theory in New York City by day and records ukulele covers by night. Enthralled by Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, Barbara sends recordings to strangers she meets by chance on the internet as well as to prominent public thinkers like David Graeber and Lauren Berlant. “The recent implosion of the global financial system made it evident that we needed to try something else,” Barbara muses about her impulses. Her fascination with “inappropriate intimacy” ultimately draws her into an erotic long-distance relationship with musical virtuoso Sami, an autistic man who lives in Germany. But when Barbara finally flies overseas to meet Sami in person, he has a breakdown that prevents their meeting and causes Barbara to question everything. Against this development, Barbara traces the work of her friend Tye, a gifted performance artist and trans man, weaving descriptions of his performances into details about her own teaching, activism, and art. At one point, Barbara reveals her struggles with memory, transforming the act of writing—and reading—this novel into a collaborative performance of recovery and creation between writer and reader. “It’s not just that I seem to have erased quite a few unpleasant memories,” Barbara writes. “Sometimes I think this is what opened up some space on my hard drive for imagining things.” Browning takes a book that could easily exist in hypotheticals, layers, and masks and instead grounds it in the chaos of its time, including the disruptive politics of the Occupy movement, the infamous Pussy Riot protests and arrests in Russia, and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The effect is indeed intimate but never inappropriate. Browning is working at the edges of her craft, and it’s utterly thrilling to watch.

A delicious love letter to readers and co-conspirators everywhere.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-56689-468-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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