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GONZO GIRL

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

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: N/A

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Awards & Accolades

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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