Álvarez has written an unnervingly subtle and effective exploration of the cost of blind idealism on families.

THE FALLEN

A dreamlike yet insightful novel of a family and a country decaying from the inside.

Cuban writer Álvarez’s debut novel is slim yet contains remarkably detailed portraits of a family watching their country’s revolution creep toward failure in the 1990s. Diego, the son, is days away from completing his state-mandated military service. His mother, Mariana, is suffering from mysterious seizures that grip her without any notice. Armando, the patriarch, tries to manage a semiluxurious resort beset with corruption while also being hounded by party officials out for their own enrichment. And María, the daughter, is trying to care for her mother while also working at her father’s resort. The chapters alternate points of view among the family members, providing crystalline insights into each person’s experiences and the family’s overall dynamic. The characters narrate their own chapters and reflect on their lives and society around them. Armando, a stalwart supporter of Fidel and Che, laments the current state of Cuba: “...the hardest times are those when no one wants to do anything, times marked by a crisis of values, a spiritual simplemindedness, too little determination.” Armando, Mariana, Diego, and María all look to their pasts in order to understand the struggles of the present. The reader is pulled into a vivid story that’s tender yet never touches on sentimental. Instead, the book pulses with a vivid realism and humanity that is heightened by Wynne’s poetic translation. The country and the family are both afflicted with a malaise that has seeped into their bones and is hard to shake loose. Armando finds comfort by falling into a revolutionary idealism that fewer and fewer people believe in, Mariana’s seizures provide a perverse means of escape, Diego’s nightly patrols at the military base allow him to fall into the chasm of memory, and the pressures of running the family, if not the business, fall on María. Each member of the family, even the country itself, walks a fine line between happiness and dissolution.

Álvarez has written an unnervingly subtle and effective exploration of the cost of blind idealism on families.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64445-025-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

SOOLEY

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball.

What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish moss–dripping milieus of the Deep South is anyone’s guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesn’t quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violence—Sooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of “the largest ethnic class in the country,” pitted against other ethnic groups—and mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its “tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people.” A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a “nonshooting guard.” Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grisham’s novel bounces between Sooley’s on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, “Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country,” though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end.

Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54768-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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