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COFFEE, SHOPPING, MURDER, LOVE

Allende’s novel offers a stylized but uneven riff on crime-fiction tropes.

Elaborate scams and workplace murders abound in this bleakly comic novel.

In fiction, the strangest things can bring together the participants in a criminal conspiracy. For Charlie and Jignesh, the alternating narrators of Allende’s novel, their connection comes via an unsuccessful date. But it turns out Charlie has a large freezer for sale, and Jignesh happens to have accidentally killed a former co-worker and is frantically trying to cover it up. The novel opens with a flash-forward to Charlie wandering through the desert in Mexico, wishing that he “had never fallen in love with [Jignesh’s] wealth and with his ravishing South Asian skin color.” If that comes off as shallow and fetishizing, that’s the point. For his part, Jignesh has a sideline in writing genre novels with characters along the lines of “winsome Celt women with a wispy mane of red hair like Princess Salmonella McFallog,” and he isn’t as wealthy as Charlie believes him to be. Gradually, the two men become immersed in more unethical activities, from Jignesh’s creative use of workplace funds to outright money laundering. Charlie’s narration is prone to withering takes on the other characters and musings on his Southern upbringing. Jignesh has a more hapless perspective on the world, leading to some comic moments, as when he ponders the appropriate thoughts to have before killing someone: “One shouldn’t pray to his family Gods when committing a crime.” But he also has a more acerbic side that emerges in moments of stress. The high concept of Allende’s novel—placing two relatively average guys who don’t have any real reason to get involved in a murder/fraud plot in the center of one—is interesting. But this ends up being a book that sinks or swims depending on how you feel about the two narrators. That said, Charlie’s penchant for digressive cinematic deep cuts—“His face is as pale as Meryl Streep’s was in The French Lieutenant’s Woman when she first sees Jeremy Irons at The Cobb in Lyme Regis’s harbor”—is endearing.

Allende’s novel offers a stylized but uneven riff on crime-fiction tropes.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63628-035-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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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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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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