A less splendid debut than the hype would suggest, but a book of considerable merit all the same—and of high entertainment...

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THE EVOLUTION OF BRUNO LITTLEMORE

So, a chimp walks into a bar…

Literally. At least in Hale’s debut novel, whose protagonist is a chimp who, among other things, does not disdain a stiff drink or three, or even “a quadruple Scotch on the rocks, please,” the aftermath of which merits ejection from a Chicago bar and a dejected walk to the apehouse down the road. Bruno is a chimp of parts: He has a knack for painting, and, he grouses, “the research center generously provides me with paints, brushes, canvases, etc.” so that he can make a fortune for the place through the sales of what, after all, are a fairly scarce commodity—works of art produced by a simian other than Homo sapiens. Bruno plays backgammon, thinks philosophical thoughts, wanders the woods in Thoreauvian splendor and generally has a fairly good time of it, even though he technically is an inmate, confined on account of a rather spectacular crime he committed, one that Hale unveils only after many hundreds of pages. The notion of a learned nonhuman primate is not entirely novel; Aldous Huxley played with it in Ape and Essence, and another denizen of Chicago, Laurence Gonzales, recently did magic with it in his novel Lucy. But Hale’s Bruno is smart and inclined to archness and irony, and it’s a pleasure to follow his thoughts, darkling and otherwise, save for those all-too-frequent moments when Hale comes over all cute (“Cyrano de Bruno” indeed). The novel requires heaping suspensions of disbelief for those unaccustomed to the premise that a chimpanzee can write a love letter while thinking snotty thoughts about its less talented cousins, “naked, hairy animals, unenlightened, ungifted with speech.” They have a word down at Tea Party central for such a critter: Elitist. And Bruno would probably cop to it, too.

A less splendid debut than the hype would suggest, but a book of considerable merit all the same—and of high entertainment value, too, as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-446-57157-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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