Davies subtly synthesizes complex issues into a low-key yet compelling web of affecting destinies.

THE MISSION HOUSE

A remote Indian hill town inescapably shaped by its colonial past becomes a refuge for a self-doubting Englishman seeking peace and finding unsuspected engagement.

Lightly yet deftly crafted, hovering in tone somewhere between comedy, tragedy, and fable, Welsh author Davies’ understated second novel considers isolated characters and their yearnings against the historical long view and looming political violence. Hilary Byrd has fled English suburbia to reach this former British hill station in India, seeking an escape from modern clamor. A sexual blank slate, inclined to depression, Byrd is happy to be offered temporary shelter in a missionary’s bungalow by the local Padre and settles into a gentle routine that includes the daily services of Jamshed, an auto rickshaw driver. The Padre’s household includes Priscilla, a young woman who had been abandoned as a child. Byrd fears he's being groomed to take Priscilla on, but then, over time, as he teaches her English, sewing, and baking, he finds his feelings for her developing. But Priscilla loves another, Jamshed’s nephew Ravi, a barber who wears a white Stetson and has ambitions to become a country and western singer. Davies’ accumulation of curious, private, overlapping characters is presented tenderly in an India that seems, despite mention of internet cafes, scarcely to belong to the modern era. But nostalgia is intended to contrast with the seismic rumblings referenced in the Padre’s mentions of “the beatings and the burnings, the lynchings and the riots.” Davies is not an overtly political writer, but there will be a further pointing up of the advancing shift from imperialist past to nationalist future. The savage storm of fanaticism will eventually arrive in this sheltered corner, shattering hearts and expectations, before Davies' cast of hopefuls and misfits is released into an uncertain future.

Davies subtly synthesizes complex issues into a low-key yet compelling web of affecting destinies.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982144-83-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

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TO PARADISE

A triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093 explore the fate of humanity, the essential power and sorrow of love, and the unique doom brought upon itself by the United States.

After the extraordinary reception of Yanagihara's Kirkus Prize–winning second novel, A Little Life (2015), her follow-up could not be more eagerly awaited. While it is nothing like either of her previous novels, it's also unlike anything else you've read (though Cloud Atlas, The House of Mirth, Martin and John, and Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy may all cross your mind at various points). More than 700 pages long, the book is composed of three sections, each a distinct narrative, each set in a counterfactual historical iteration of the place we call the United States. The narratives are connected by settings and themes: A house on Washington Square in Greenwich Village is central to each; Hawaii comes up often, most prominently in the second. The same names are used for (very different) characters in each story; almost all are gay and many are married. Even in the Edith Wharton–esque opening story, in which the scion of a wealthy family is caught between an arranged marriage and a reckless affair, both of his possible partners are men. Illness and disability are themes in each, most dramatically in the third, set in a brutally detailed post-pandemic totalitarian dystopia. Here is the single plot connection we could find: In the third part, a character remembers hearing a story with the plot of the first. She mourns the fact that she never did get to hear the end of it: "After all these years I found myself wondering what had happened....I knew it was foolish because they weren't even real people but I thought of them often. I wanted to know what had become of them." You will know just how she feels. But what does it mean that Yanagihara acknowledges this? That is just one of the conundrums sure to provoke years of discussion and theorizing. Another: Given the punch in the gut of utter despair one feels when all the most cherished elements of 19th- and 20th-century lives are unceremoniously swept off the stage when you turn the page to the 21st—why is the book not called To Hell?

Gigantic, strange, exquisite, terrifying, and replete with mystery.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54793-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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