Celebrating the importance of illusion and accident, Shields’s beautifully crafted stories capture her characters’ shocked...

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DRESSING UP FOR THE CARNIVAL

``We cannot live without our illusions,'' muses one of the characters in this exuberant collection, stating a theme that Shields turns to repeatedly in 22 precise, penetrating tales.

The dazzling title story traces the play of hope and fantasy in the lives of a series of townspeople over the course of one seemingly uneventful day, their quotidian acts revealing those stubborn, regenerative ``cycles of consolation and enhancement'' with which we overcome despair. In ``The Scarf,'' a middleaged writer, amazed by the unexpected success of her novel, comes to grips with the limitations of her talent during a lunch with an old friend. In less assured hands such epiphanies might seem unsurprising, but the prolific Shields (Larry’s Party, 1997, etc.) creates characters with such believable complexities of behavior that their discoveries are fresh and convincing. In ``Dressing Down,'' a ten-year-old boy spends the summer at a nudist camp his grandfather founded, discovering there how the battle over reticence and frankness has defined his grandparents’ marriage—and learning also that nudity tends to dissolve possibility and mystery, making people more prosaic than alluring. ``Eros'' follows the reveries of a middleaged survivor of breast cancer as she looks back at her long, slow discovery of sex, from her first childhood suspicions of its presence in the lives of her parents to its impact on her nowdissolved marriage. Loss has taught her that, while sex provides no ultimate liberation, it plays a vital role in helping people for a moment to feel ``part of the blissful, awakened world.'' In the terse ``New Music,'' writing the biography of a minor composer transforms its author, giving her and her family a startled appreciation of imagination’s power to remake life.

Celebrating the importance of illusion and accident, Shields’s beautifully crafted stories capture her characters’ shocked discovery of the gap between imagination and reality—and their ability to find happiness despite this in the “opening, beckoning, sensuous world.”

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-670-88921-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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