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WATER OVER STONES

A quietly remarkable offering from the first name in Basque literature.

Deep slices of life from the Basque Country evoke the beauty and banality of the world.

Elías hasn’t spoken since returning from college to the village of Ugarte, spending his time carving a toy boat alongside local twins Luis and Martín. Bakery employees Donato and Eliseo serve in Franco’s army barracks, secretly sheltering a magpie while they await their discharge. A coal mine engineer named Antoine blames Eliseo for his dog’s death and suspects Martín of sabotaging his lab in the name of Maoism.These are just some details of the plot—somehow both expansive and intimate, straightforward and elliptical—described by Atxaga in languid, unadorned prose. Scenes have room to breathe and often conclude without fanfare; conversational dialogue, poetic imagery, and small gestures rather than propulsive conflict advance the story. Particular attention is paid to pedestrian scenic metadata such as the date, time of day, and weather. Atxaga helped translate his book from the original Basque to Spanish, and the crisp Spanish-to-English translation is courtesy of longtime Atxaga collaborators Jull Costa and Bunstead. The language teems with repetition; each character frequently returns to different topics of fixation: Antoine thinks his therapist resembles Raisa Gorbacheva; Luis hears the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly in his head. The undramatic innocuousness of the story is eerie, as though anything could happen. So, what is the point? What are these sections—almost interconnected novellas—building toward? As Luis asks himself: “Was there anything significant about that coincidence? Who knows?” Atxaga inspires trust from the reader through his authorial command. There is indeed a method to the madness and an unexpected payoff that meaningfully reframes the entire book.

A quietly remarkable offering from the first name in Basque literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64445-095-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JUST FOR THE SUMMER

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Two people with bad luck in relationships find each other through a popular Reddit thread.

Emma Grant and her best friend, Maddy, are travel nurses, working at hospitals for three-month stints while they see the country. Just a few weeks before they’re set to move to Hawaii, Emma reads a popular “Am I the Asshole” Reddit thread from a Minnesota man who thinks he’s cursed—women he dates find their soulmates after breaking up with him, and the latest one found true love with his best friend! Emma has had a similar experience, which inspires her to DM the man and commiserate. She’s delighted by her witty, lively interactions with software engineer Justin Dahl, and is intrigued when he suggests that if they date each other, maybe they’ll each find their soulmate afterward. Emma upends the Hawaii plan and convinces Maddy to move to Minneapolis for the summer so she can meet Justin in person. The overly complex setup brings Emma and Justin together and the two hit it off, with Justin immediately falling head over heels for Emma. Jimenez then pivots to creating romantic roadblocks and melodramatic subplots centering on each character’s family of origin. Justin’s mother is about to serve six years in prison for embezzlement, which means Justin must move back home to care for his three much younger siblings. Emma was traumatized by her own mother for much of her childhood, left to fend for herself and eventually abandoned in the foster system. When her mother shows up in Minnesota, Emma must face her traumatic childhood and admit that she has prioritized her mother’s well-being over her own. There is little time devoted to Emma’s painful efforts to heal herself enough to accept Justin’s love, which leaves the novel feeling unsatisfying.

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781538704431

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forever

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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