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



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?