Snapshots taken by one of the world’s beautiful losers.

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HOUSE OF COATES

A lonely traveler on the edge of civilization documents the empty and desolate corners of America where no one is looking.

In the classic Cannery Row, Steinbeck describes his characters as “whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,” which he says could just as easily mean “saints and angels and martyrs and holy men.” This multimedia experiment, originally published as a spiral-bound art project by Little Brown Mushroom, attempts to capture moments in the life of a similar creature, starting with a hymn to his tribe. “Here’s to the prisoners of disenchantment, the lost, broken men bullied and inoculated against hope as children and eventually immunized against all notice or attention,” Zellar writes. “To the lost boys and invisible men. To those who have been carved small by the glaciers of time and memory. To the fundamentally amnesiac, nurturers of the selective oblivion of the neglected. To the men who keep secrets even from themselves. To the ceaselessly retreating armies of the lonely. To the men who play hide and seek.” The book posits itself as a record of the viewpoint of one Lester B. Morrison, a lost soul who lives on the outskirts of Minneapolis, taking snapshots of seemingly random objects: the outside of a rural casino; an overturned semi; a church in the snow. There’s a storyline but it’s nearly inconsequential to the presentation of the story, a poetic attempt not to fully form a life but only to capture moments of memory and objects of counterintuitive beauty. There’s a mild debate over whether Lester B. Morrison is real or not, dead or not, fiction or fact, but it’s a moot point. In the framework of this delicately curated art project, Lester becomes Schrodinger’s cat, alive or dead, merely occupying a moment in time. The prose is crisp and thoughtful and well-matched to the photos that show the side of America to which even most Americans never give a second thought.

Snapshots taken by one of the world’s beautiful losers.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-56689-370-1

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

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A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile and a half-century of political and personal upheavals.

We meet Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938 as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican cause they support is doomed. When they reunite in France as penniless refugees, Roser has survived a harrowing flight across the Pyrenees while heavily pregnant and given birth to the son of Victor’s brother Guillem, killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Victor, evacuated with the wounded he was tending in a makeshift hospital, learns of a ship outfitted by poet Pablo Neruda to take exiles to a new life in Chile, but he and Roser must marry in order to gain a berth. Allende (In the Midst of Winter, 2017, etc.) expertly sets up this forced intimacy between two very different people: Resolute, realistic Roser never looks back and doggedly pursues a musical career in Chile while Victor, despite being fast-tracked into medical school by socialist politician Salvador Allende (a relative of the author's), remains melancholy and nostalgic for his homeland. Their platonic affection deepens into physical love and lasting commitment in an episodic narrative that reaches a catastrophic climax with the 1973 coup overthrowing Chile’s democratically elected government. For Victor and Roser, this is a painful reminder of their losses in Spain and the start of new suffering. The wealthy, conservative del Solar family provides a counterpoint to the idealistic Dalmaus; snobbish, right-wing patriarch Isidro and his hysterically religious wife, Laura, verge on caricature, but Allende paints more nuanced portraits of eldest son Felipe, who smooths the refugees’ early days in Chile, and daughter Ofelia, whose brief affair with Victor has lasting consequences. Allende tends to describe emotions and events rather than delve into them, and she paints the historical backdrop in very broad strokes, but she is an engaging storyteller. A touching close in 1994 brings one more surprise and unexpected hope for the future to 80-year-old Victor.

A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2015-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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