An intellectual peep show whose ultimate meaning remains elusive.

READ REVIEW

THE BOOK OF GETTING EVEN

Taylor’s second novel (Tales Out of School, 1995) is an inconsequential story, with considerable pretensions, about a brainy gay Jewish astronomy student, his brainy best friends (twins) and their super-brainy parents.

Gabriel Geismar is a mama’s boy with an overbearing father, a rabbi in New Orleans. Gabriel loves numbers, especially as they relate to the cosmos; his other love is male bodies, which he satisfies by visiting a bathhouse. Deliverance from the rabbi comes in 1970, when he wins a scholarship to Swarthmore, outside Philadelphia, and meets Marghie and Danny Hundert, fraternal twins, who both fall in love with him; he reciprocates Danny’s love, while Marghie becomes his big sister. The movie buff (Marghie) and the pacifist (Danny) are the children of Gregor Hundert, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist who, along with other Hungarian Jews, developed the atom bomb at Los Alamos. Gabriel is in seventh heaven when the courtly, old-world parents take a shine to him: These, surely, are his rightful parents, not the rabbi and the rebbetzin, whose deaths are described with arch humor. The story meanders through the ’70s. Gabriel becomes a professor of astrophysics. Love affairs founder. Gabriel and Marghie ease their solitude with imaginary helpmates. Neither one is a fully formed, knowable character. We don’t know Danny either, though he defines himself in spectacular fashion, first by his vow of silence to protest the Vietnam war, then by his attempt to assassinate Kissinger. This was Danny’s project: “To get even. With the big perpetrators.” It’s hard to square it with the words from the Bhagavad Gita which are his father’s mantra: “[T]he good deeds a man has done defend him.” Gregor seems mocked by that mantra too, as he slips into dementia. The novel ends in irony and ambiguity as Gabriel, a more reliable “son” than the incarcerated Danny, scatters Gregor’s ashes in Budapest.

An intellectual peep show whose ultimate meaning remains elusive.

Pub Date: May 20, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58642-143-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Steerforth

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A gut-wrenching debut.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

MY DARK VANESSA

The #MeToo movement forces a struggling young woman to confront the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past.

At 15, Vanessa Wye falls for her English teacher at Browick, a private boarding school. Jacob Strane is 42, "big, broad, and so tall that his shoulders hunch as though his body wants to apologize for taking up so much space." Strane woos Vanessa with Nabokov's novels, Plath's poetry, and furtive caresses in his back office. "I think we're very similar, Nessa," Strane tells her during a one-on-one conference. "I can tell from the way you write that you're a dark romantic like me." Soon, Vanessa is reveling in her newfound power of attraction, pursuing sleepovers at Strane's house, and conducting what she feels is a secret affair right under the noses of the administration. More than 15 years later, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Taylor Birch, another young woman from Browick, publicly accuses Strane of sexual abuse. When a young journalist reaches out to Vanessa to corroborate Taylor's story, Vanessa's world begins to unravel. "Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it," Vanessa tells herself. Russell weaves Vanessa's memories of high school together with the social media–saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Russell's debut is a rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse, and her novel asks readers both to take Vanessa's assertions of agency at face value and to determine the real, psychological harm perpetrated against her by an abusive adult. What emerges is a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. "The excuses we make for them are outrageous," Vanessa concludes about abusive men, "but they're nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves."

A gut-wrenching debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294150-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled...

A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD

A riveting, potentially redemptive story of modern American suburbia that reads almost like an ancient Greek tragedy.

When the Whitmans, a nouveau riche white family, move into a sprawling, newly built house next door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor of forestry and ecology, and her musically gifted, biracial 18-year-old son, Xavier, in a modest, diverse North Carolina neighborhood of cozy ranch houses on wooded lots, it is clear from the outset things will not end well. The neighborhood itself, which serves as the novel’s narrator and chorus, tells us so. The story begins on “a Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them,” we are informed in the book’s opening paragraph. “Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who’s to blame.” The exact nature of the tragedy that has been foretold and questions of blame come into focus gradually as a series of events is set inexorably in motion when the Whitmans’ cloistered 17-year-old daughter, Juniper, encounters Xavier. The two teenagers tumble into a furtive, pure-hearted romance even as Xavier’s mom and Juniper’s stepfather, Brad, a slick operator who runs a successful HVAC business and has secrets of his own, lock horns in a legal battle over a dying tree. As the novel builds toward its devastating climax, it nimbly negotiates issues of race and racism, class and gentrification, sex and sexual violence, environmental destruction and other highly charged topics. Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman, 2018, etc.) empathetically conjures nuanced characters we won’t soon forget, expertly weaves together their stories, and imbues the plot with a sense of inevitability and urgency. In the end, she offers an opportunity for catharsis as well as a heartfelt, hopeful call to action.

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled times.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-23727-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more