One of Kingsolver’s better efforts at preaching her politics and pulling heartstrings at the same time.

FLIGHT BEHAVIOR

A young woman discovers her rural Tennessee community has been invaded by monarch butterflies in this effective tear-jerker cum environmental jeremiad from Kingsolver (The Lacuna, 2009, etc.).

At 17, English honor student Dellarobia thought she would escape a future of grim rural poverty by attending college. Instead, she got pregnant and married. Now 27, feeling stifled by the responsibility of two young children she loves and a husband she tolerates, Dellarobia is heading to her first adulterous tryst when she happens upon a forested valley taken over by a host of brilliant orange butterflies that appear at first like a silent fire. She skips the tryst, but her life changes in unexpected ways. Soon after, Dellarobia leads her sweet if dim husband, Cub, to the butterflies, and they become public knowledge. The butterflies have landed in Tennessee because their usual winter habitat in Mexico has been flooded out. The local church congregation, including Dellarobia’s mother-in-law, Hester, embraces the butterflies’ arrival as a sign of grace. Influenced by her beloved preacher, usually antagonistic Hester (a refreshingly complex character) becomes a surprising ally in convincing Dellarobia’s father-in-law not to cut down the forest for much-needed cash, although she is not above charging tourists, who arrive in increasing numbers to view the spectacle. Soon, a handsome black scientist with a Caribbean accent has set up in her barn to study the beautiful phenomena, which he says may spell environmental doom. Dellarobia is attracted to the sophisticated, educated world Dr. Byron and his grad school assistants represent. When she takes a job working with the scientists, the schisms in her already troubled marriage deepen. Yet, she is fiercely defensive against signs of condescension toward her family and neighbors; she really goes after a guy whose list of ways to lower the carbon footprint—“bring your own Tupperware to a restaurant,” “fly less”—have no relevance to people trying to survive economically day-by-day.

One of Kingsolver’s better efforts at preaching her politics and pulling heartstrings at the same time.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-212426-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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