A novel that shows our nation's path from refreshing nonconformity to end-times careerism.

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GONZO GIRL

This autobiographical novel about a year spent as Hunter S. Thompson’s personal assistant contains crazy highs (of course) and many dismal lows.

This is a harrowing book, depicting Thompson (here called Walker Reade) in the twilight of his career, with his writing powers waning and self-esteem in peril. He needs an assistant—and hires only young, female ones—to help him stay on track to finish a book. Della Pietra’s narrator, aspiring writer Alley Russo, wants to escape her dreary bartending gig on Long Island and the low expectations of her blue-collar family. She arrives in Colorado to find a group of hangers-on trying to keep Walker happy by laughing at his jokes and sharing his cocaine, and she feels the pressure to fall into lock step. The extent to which she does is what makes this story so horrifying, as well as fascinating. Alley clicks with Walker, and she captures his surly, blunt, occasionally brilliant dialogue with a writer’s ear. She joins in with the drug-taking and constant drinking, having been told it’s part of her duties, and also keeps him writing—an achievement in this atmosphere. But Walker has become a mean drunk and submits the women around him to a lot of abuse. He insists Alley dress sexier, even driving her to a local mall and giving judgments on outfits she models for him. He calls her “moron” one minute and has his hand on her knee the next. That an intelligent Ivy League graduate chooses to go along with this treatment, feeling there’s no other path away from anonymity, gives the book an undercurrent of horror. That said, it has the allure of a car crash—you’ll keep reading as Walker’s antics become more outrageous and his mood more foul. There's also something poignant in the vulnerability he occasionally reveals to his young assistant; they’re attracted to each other, but this is one area Della Pietra seems to have gauged as too dangerous to tap. Nevertheless, their intimacy grows even in a cloud of hangovers, freshly mixed drinks, and the ever present drugs. At one point, Alley muses that Walker can’t give up his wildly indulgent lifestyle because it’s too much a part of his public identity. It's simply sad, though, that a writer of Walker's caliber thinks the main thing he has to contribute to American letters is being constantly wasted.

A novel that shows our nation's path from refreshing nonconformity to end-times careerism.

Pub Date: July 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0014-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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