A character study and a morality tale wrapped up in a medical thriller.

A MISTAKE

Where does responsibility for a mistake lie: with a system? A circumstance? An individual?

Shuker’s staccato recounting of an operating room mishap reveals as much about the iconoclastic surgeon leading the team as the doctor herself wants anyone to know: She plays thrash metal on repeat while she works, she’s curt and demanding in the OR, and she’s a brilliant, accomplished surgeon. The complicated aftermath of the surgical error, committed by a junior colleague, seems almost inevitable given Dr. Elizabeth (Liz!) Taylor’s propensity to do things her own way despite the confines of the misogynistic medical community of the novel’s setting, Wellington, New Zealand. In a parallel to the surgical story, Shuker unfolds the events leading up to the space shuttle Challenger disaster, an event Taylor uses to illustrate the implications of “massive systems failure” to her surgical students. Taylor tells them there can be simple problems, complicated problems, complex problems…or chaos. (Her own assessment of the operating room error as a “controlled emergency,” not a chaotic one, is one example of her sangfroid.) A pending initiative to publish the results of medical outcomes lends additional drama to Taylor’s predicament; data alone is subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation by nonphysicians, and a sole bad outcome can skew the results of years of hard-won successes. Shuker’s spare narrative leaves substantial room to theorize about Taylor’s emotional life as well as the ultimate assignment of blame for the surgical calamity. Scattered clues to Taylor’s past allow insight into her relationship status, bisexuality, and temperament, but Shuker succeeds in providing a main character whose idiosyncratic self is most fully realized in the operating room and who has only herself to rely upon to survive the repercussions of a mistake.

A character study and a morality tale wrapped up in a medical thriller.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64009-249-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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