A thoroughly captivating debut. First novels don’t get much better than this.

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MONEY, LOVE

This terrifically entertaining first novel by Barkley (stories: Circle View, not reviewed), set in North Carolina in the summer of 1975, resembles nothing so much as a PG-rated country cousin to Faulkner's wonderful picaresque The Reivers.

It's 16-year-old Gabe Strickland's wry account of enduring adolescence beneath the crazy shadow of his parents' rocky marriage. His ever-hopeful dad Roman is a southern Willy Loman who believes he can't fail as a traveling salesman and customer-friendly entrepreneur: he's a walking grab-bag of wildly diversified energies and grandiose self-improvement schemes. Gabe's mom Gladys, a frustrated woman with poetry in her soul and little or no equity to call their own, eventually tires of Roman's false starts and broken promises and moves out, taking up with his brother Dutch, a prosperous, stable, and—let's face it—dull auto sales magnate. Determined to win back Gladys (whom he genuinely loves), Roman cooks up one harebrained moneymaking scheme after another, finally settling on a traveling-carnival exhibit of “Death Cars of the Celebrities,” enlisting the bemused Gabe to pose as the late James Dean—an imposture to which he consents primarily because Dutch's gorgeous ex-wife, former Miss North Carolina Sandy Goforth, has impulsively joined Roman's retinue ("as" movie goddess Jayne Mansfield—and the object of virginal Gabe's rapt sexual attention). Except for a few too many father-son conversations about whether Gladys really does still love Roman and will return to them, the novel rips right along, powered by five vividly full characterizations and sweetened by Gabe's utterly credible dazed and confused mixture of perpetual horniness, ornery wit, and thwarted affection for both his infuriating, recalcitrant, and ineffably goodhearted parents.

A thoroughly captivating debut. First novels don’t get much better than this.

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-04929-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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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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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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