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HERE IS WHAT YOU DO

With a fearless voice and a diverse array of characters, Dennis’ debut delivers strong prose but tips toward the overly...

Dark, visceral, and wide-ranging, Dennis' debut collection delves into the humanity and pain of highly flawed characters.

In the title story, a young man in prison on a drug charge develops an intimate yet violent relationship with his cellmate. A widowed woman with a self-destructive streak finds herself on a yacht off the coast of Mexico outrunning a tsunami in "In the Martian Summer." "The Book-Eating Ceremony" follows a jaded lesbian academic with a deep resentment for her girlfriend (and her girlfriend’s gaggle of dogs) as she attempts to write a book about misogynist gynecologist Albert H. Decker while grieving her mother and obsessively pining for another woman. In "Nettles," a husband buys a slaughterhouse and moves his family out of the city only for tensions to boil over with his wife and with the religious neighbors he bought it from. "This Is a Galaxy" tracks the son of a gay Turkish immigrant who finds himself violently orphaned and working in a butcher shop. One story, "In Motel Rooms," is told from the point of view of Coretta Scott King, hounded by the FBI and carrying the burdens not only of the Jim Crow South, but of family duties and activist organizing as her husband has an affair. While King is written with more empathy and care than the other female characters in the book, it can be argued that Dennis, a white man, is not the person who should be telling the story of a black woman’s domestic pain. The stories in this collection are often bloody, brutal, and sad. The protagonists’ hopelessness (and the author’s inclination toward the grisly) is clear in one character’s observation that “it felt as if every animal were designed to be disassembled.” The relationships are dysfunctional and the interior lives of the characters scalding, the sex brutal, and the trauma acute. Dark corners of complicated people are on full display.

With a fearless voice and a diverse array of characters, Dennis’ debut delivers strong prose but tips toward the overly morbid.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64129-036-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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