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MEMORIAL

A subtle and moving exploration of love, family, race, and the long, frustrating search for home.

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Benson and Mike, a mixed-race couple in Houston, search for the truth about themselves, each other, and their families.

This debut novel from Washington—author of the award-winning story collection Lot (2019)—is split into three vividly written sections. The first and third are narrated by Benson, an African American man living in Houston with his boyfriend, Mike, who narrates the middle section. Benson and Mike are on the verge of breaking up, but their passion for each other keeps them from being able to fully pull away. Both men have families they feel distant from: Benson’s father is an alcoholic who never fully accepted his son’s homosexuality, and Mike’s divorced parents have both left Houston for their native Japan. At the start of the novel, Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, flies to Houston to visit him at the same time that his father, Eiju, falls seriously ill back in Osaka. Mike picks Mitsuko up from the airport, leaves her with Benson, then flies across the ocean to visit Eiju, whom he hasn’t seen in years. Neither Benson nor Mitsuko is happy about being stuck with each other, but they slowly develop a relationship that’s not quite friendship and not quite family. They both love the same man, and that’s enough to help them understand each other. In Osaka, Mike cares for his sick, grumpy father and helps him run his bar though their relationship is strained. Mike isn’t rushing to forgive his homophobic father for leaving the family in Houston, and Eiju is cold and distant. Both Mike and Benson fall into relationships with other men while they're apart, and ultimately, both have to decide how to forgive the people closest to them. Washington’s novel is richly layered and thrives in the quiet moments between lovers and family members. Benson and Mike know they could hurt each other, hurt their families, hurt themselves, or they could say words to heal and bring people together. As Mike says, “How did everything come to such a turning point between us? Quietly, I guess. The big moments are never big when they’re actually fucking happening.” There is passion in this novel—fight scenes, sex scenes, screaming matches, and tears—but it reaches a deep poetic realism when Washington explores the space between characters. When so much is left unsaid, that’s when this novel speaks the loudest.

A subtle and moving exploration of love, family, race, and the long, frustrating search for home.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08727-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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SWAN SONG

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

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A stranger comes to town, and a beloved storyteller plays this creative-writing standby for all it’s worth.

Hilderbrand fans, a vast and devoted legion, will remember Blond Sharon, the notorious island gossip. In what is purportedly the last of the Nantucket novels, Blond Sharon decides to pursue her lifelong dream of fiction writing. In the collective opinion of the island—aka the “cobblestone telegraph”—she’s qualified. “Well, we think, she’s certainly demonstrated her keen interest in other people’s stories, the seedier and more salacious, the better.” Blond Sharon’s first assignment in her online creative writing class is to create a two-person character study, and Hilderbrand has her write up the two who arrive on the ferry in an opening scene of the book, using the same descriptors Hilderbrand has. Amusingly, the class is totally unimpressed. “‘I found it predictable,’ Willow said. ‘Like maybe Sharon used ChatGPT with the prompt “Write a character study about two women getting off the ferry, one prep and one punk.”’” Blond Sharon abandons these characters, but Hilderbrand thankfully does not. They are Kacy Kapenash, daughter of retiring police chief Ed Kapenash (the other swan song referred to by the title), and her new friend Coco Coyle, who has given up her bartending job in the Virgin Islands to become a “personal concierge” for the other strangers-who-have-come-to-town. These are the Richardsons, Bull and Leslee, a wild and wealthy couple who have purchased a $22 million beachfront property and plan to take Nantucket by storm. As the book opens, their house has burned down during an end-of-summer party on their yacht, and Coco is missing, feared both responsible for the fire and dead. Though it’s the last weekend of his tenure, Chief Ed refuses to let the incoming chief, Zara Washington, take this one over. The investigation goes forward in parallel with a review of the summer’s intrigues, love affairs, and festivities. Whatever else you can say about Leslee Richardson, she knows how to throw a party, and Hilderbrand is just the writer to design her invitations, menus, themes, playlists, and outfits. And that hot tub!

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780316258876

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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