Alternately unnerving and heartwarming, this book’s evocation of family life is compelling stuff.

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THE LIGHTNING JAR

The stories in Felt’s collection tap into the mysteries of childhood, incorporating folklore, ghost stories, and Mormonism along the way.

In this concise book, Felt covers a lot of ground, both thematic and tonal. Some stories tap into the surreal and fantastic, while others parse out family histories in a realistic manner. What unites almost all of them are deft evocations of a child’s perceptions. In several of these stories, words like “Cousins” and “Guest” are capitalized, turning visiting characters into something closer to archetypes. That’s in keeping with the way many of these stories weave in and out of folktales, in which transformations (both in stories and in stories within stories) abound. In one of the latter, a cat slowly transforms into “a Gorbel, which is like a cat but also like a spider, and has no mouth except when it’s eating and no eyes except when it’s looking at something nasty.” But the folkloric elements of these stories aren’t omnipresent. The narrator of “Snow on Snow” recounts how his parents met: His Mormon-missionary father traveled to Sweden, where he met the woman he would marry. Though he’s years from being born, the narrator remains a presence, with periodic commentary like “Now I’m going to do something odd and imagine my parents’ first meeting, from Mom’s point-of-view, in an overtly romantic way.” It’s a sometimes-mannered narrative voice, but it’s also a confident one, which helps to make a familiar storyline feel fresh. In the concluding “The Guest on Summer Island” (with a Tove Jansson epigraph), Felt delves back into history and restrains the more bizarre aspects of his fiction but nonetheless summons power from the history of the landscape around his characters.

Alternately unnerving and heartwarming, this book’s evocation of family life is compelling stuff.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60938-600-9

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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