A smart, slightly kooky exploration of art and money, faith and politics.

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THE GULF

The author of the memoir The Art of Waiting (2016) and the story collection Mattaponi Queen (2010) takes readers inside a writers’ retreat for Christians with her first novel.

It began as a joke. Marianne, a poet, suggested to her novelist boyfriend, Eric, that a writing workshop for Evangelicals could be a lucrative endeavor. When Eric—now her ex—calls Marianne and asks her if she wants to manage the newly formed Genesis Inspirational Writing Ranch, she can’t believe he’s serious, but he is, and she’s not really in a position to say no. She’s perennially underemployed, and her cheap apartment is about to go condo. So, she leaves New York for an abandoned motel on the outskirts of Sarasota, Florida. Marianne assures herself that this gig will give her plenty of time to concentrate on her own work, but running a school requires a lot of effort, and the students are more demanding than she had expected. Donald—also known as Davonte—is an R&B star trying to write a novel based on what he hopes will be his comeback. He needs Marianne to heat up his Lean Cuisines; he’s trying to lose weight. Janine, a devout home economics teacher who assumes that Marianne is a believer, too, wants to talk about God’s plan for her poems about Terri Schiavo. Just as she’s realizing these aspiring writers are real people rather than gullible rubes ripe for fleecing, Marianne learns that the Ranch is partnering with God’s World God’s Word, a for-profit educational conglomerate with ties to extreme right-wing politics. And then there’s a massive storm heading for the coast….Boggs bombards her heroine with difficulties—artistic, ethical, romantic, meteorological—at an antic pace, and the book has slapstick charm. But the heart of this novel is its cast. Marianne is a mess, and she’s not always a sympathetic character, but she’s real, and she’s capable of change. Rekindling her relationship with Eric is her primary preoccupation early on, but it’s her unexpected connection with Janine that proves more enduring, more honest, and more interesting.

A smart, slightly kooky exploration of art and money, faith and politics.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-55597-834-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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