Brilliant, entropic fiction that sometimes spins off into its own narcissistic void.



SoCal chronicler extraordinaire (Still Holding, 2003, etc.) goes deep with a portrait of a terminally self-destructive family.

After lightening up a bit in his previous novel (The Chrysanthemum Palace, 2005), Wagner returns to a more savage tone with this baleful look at a subculture in abysmal decline. Members of the long-broken-up Herlihy family are living separate lives, each being screwed over in horrendous ways. Ray, who deserted his two children years ago, is an aging fella who doesn’t enjoy much anymore except for Twilight Zone reruns and the company of his moody, young, Indian girlfriend. When the police mistakenly break down Ray’s door and shoot his dog before realizing Ray’s not the perp they want, a classic Los Angeles civil suit goes quickly into motion. Marj, Ray’s dotty ex, just lost her new husband and is sucked into an elaborate con by a team of cold-blooded grifters, who take the scam to lengths almost too painful to read. Ray and Marj’s daughter Joan, a striving architect, is hired by a billionaire to design a memorial honoring two of his relatives (and nobody else) who died in the Southeast Asian tsunami. When not delivering furious interior monologues (“she was merely a skinsack of Diet Coke sugarwater and ruined eggs”), Joan sleeps with all the wrong men and hates herself for it. Last and least is Chester, a film-location scout whose life is lost in a fog of pot smoke and bad schemes until he’s accidentally wounded during a staged gag for a Punk’d-style TV show (inspiring another promising civil suit). Like its subjects/targets, the story occasionally gets lost in self-reflection. Wagner’s prose is, nevertheless, a force of nature, and laser-sharp in its selection of Hollywood sitting ducks.

Brilliant, entropic fiction that sometimes spins off into its own narcissistic void.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-7235-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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