A certain age, acutely observed.

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A CERTAIN AGE

A tale of Manhattan society in the Jazz Age, spiced liberally with secrets and scandal.

Williams’ latest opens with a dispatch from “Patty Cake,” a jaded society reporter from a New York paper, covering a “Trial of the Century” in Connecticut. We don't yet know who's on trial, but two of the women in the courtroom that day take up the narration of events that led to this pass. Theresa, a 44-year-old Fifth Avenue socialite, and her lover, Octavian, 22, are surprised in the carriage house of her Long Island estate by her brother, Edmund Jay "Ox" Ochsner, who reveals his intention to marry 19-year-old Sophie Fortescue, youngest daughter of the so-called Patent King, an entrepreneur and inventor who made his fortune as his nickname suggests. The Fortescue millions will assure financial security for this pedigreed but cash-poor bachelor gadabout. There follows a retelling of Der Rosenkavalier for the Roaring '20s. Octavian, a World War I flying ace whose war wounds are mainly mental, is enlisted by Theresa to act as cavalier for Ox, delivering a rose-shaped engagement ring to Sophie at her father’s unassuming home on 32nd Street. The two young people are smitten, but Sophie agrees to the engagement to please her father, who wants a traditional family life for her, although her real desire is to exercise her own mechanical aptitude. Meanwhile, Theresa learns that her marriage of convenience is coming to an end—her husband wants to marry his mistress. Now the way is clear to wed Octavian, except that the cavalier’s affections have shifted. Sophie is repelled by Ox’s dissolute, gin-swilling ways, his peppermint hair oil, and his boorish attentions. Testimony at trial recalls a Greenwich, Connecticut, house once occupied by a mechanic, who disappeared with his two daughters after his wife was found murdered. Chapters oscillate in time, ending on cliffhangers that can be jarring, but this novel is mainly propelled by its period-perfect prose style.

A certain age, acutely observed.

Pub Date: June 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-240495-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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