Though not quite as sensitive an observer or exceptional a writer as Cheever, Orcutt lies satisfyingly in his shadow.



Welcome to Wellington, New York, where, in this loose novel, readers can eavesdrop on the lives of the uber-rich and those who cater to them.

Think of a very, very upscale Winesburg, Ohio—with no inhabitant nearly so innocent as young George Willard. Or think John Cheever, for this is certainly Cheever country. Wellington is about a hundred miles north of Manhattan, populated by such as the well-named Hamilton Highgate and his trophy wife, Caprice, and Carlton Hale, M.D., the wives’ favorite doctor. And there’s Jimmy Tatko, the studly contractor who decides to make a circuit on foxhunt day, apologizing to all the rich wives he’s schtupped and then forsaken. Things don’t turn out well for Jimmy, considering his stomach cancer. The most Cheever-esque story of all may be “Garbage Feud,” in which, after the unnamed narrator throws his trash, innocently, into the wrong Dumpster, the feud is on and there’s no backing down. Things escalate until Crawford, the narrator’s nemesis, flips his truck with a disastrous outcome—but in a twist for our times, a literary agent sees the newspaper account, so there’s likely a million-dollar book and movie deal in the offing. Unlike some framed stories, main characters in one chapter will reappear, often as cameos or just references, in another. Readers do get a sense of Wellington as a real place where lives intertwine. Jimmy, for instance, may pleasure a fellow’s wife in one chapter, then turn up in another to give an estimate for his kitchen remodel. For all their wealth, most of these people are not happy—an old trope, of course, but one that Orcutt slightly twists. There are random acts of kindness, and in a heartening episode, someone steals an abused dog. Sometimes, even for those characters who are disagreeable or worse, there are hints that even they deserve our pity.

Though not quite as sensitive an observer or exceptional a writer as Cheever, Orcutt lies satisfyingly in his shadow.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615999838

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Have Pen, Will Travel

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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