Where Clarke's novels veer toward social satire, often hilariously so, this uneven collection ranges from the inscrutable to...

THE PRICE OF THE HAIRCUT

This collection of short fiction features writing as straightforward as the perspective is askew.

Readers might find themselves asking a couple of questions when reading Clarke's (The Happiest People in the World, 2015, etc.) latest story collection. The first is What is this story about? The second, Why would anyone write a story about this? These are mostly first-person narratives featuring hopelessly deluded protagonists who live in a world where the usual principles of human behavior don't seem to apply. The title story, which opens the collection, proceeds from this premise: “On Monday, an unarmed black teenage boy was shot in the back and killed by a white city policeman. On Tuesday, there was a race riot.” A simple statement of cause and effect, until the mayor determines that the explanation is too easy, that the riot had in fact been sparked by a white barber who offered cut-rate haircuts and allegedly made a racist remark while giving one. The explanation satisfies the narrator and his white cohort but leaves them in a quandary. Should they go protest at the barber shop? Or should they get one of those discount haircuts that are such a better value than their expensive ones? They expect black protestors when they arrive at the barber shop, but all they see is a long line of white customers wanting their own bargain haircuts. A parable? Then there’s “Concerning Lizzie Borden, Her Axe, My Wife,” in which a mystified husband finds himself invited without explanation to join his wife—who had recently kicked him out of the house—at a B&B in the former home of the notorious ax murderer, where he joins other equally confused guests. For pure literary pleasure, the concluding “The Pity Palace” shows a masterful command of tone on a number of different levels. Though written in the third person, it focuses on an Italian man, Antonio Vieri, despondent because his “wife had left him for the famous American author who wrote those best-selling novels about Italian gangsters in New York.” In other words, Mario Puzo, whose name Vieri can’t bear to hear spoken and who happens to be dead. And was dead at the time Vieri suggested to his wife that if she liked those novels so much, like the one whose translated title was The Patriarch of the Gangster, she could just leave him for the author. If he ever actually did that. If he ever actually had a wife. If any of this signifies anything more than words on a page in a book. Vieri's dialogue seems to have been inspired by idiomatic English translated into the Italian vernacular and then back into English, a virtuosic feat.

Where Clarke's novels veer toward social satire, often hilariously so, this uneven collection ranges from the inscrutable to the astounding.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-817-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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