Brookhouse isn't exactly treading on Peyton Place turf, but he sticks to the idea that, no matter how quiet and laid-back a...

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THE JEFFREY STORIES

Stories, set in a fictional New Hampshire town, whose residents deal with universal issues of loneliness, indecision, lust and mortality–call it the "human condition"–from the author of A Selfish Woman (2001), which appeared in the September 1, 2001, issue of Kirkus Reviews.

Jeffrey, New Hampshire, is a summer getaway, pop. 1,100 during the off-season, all 1,100 of whom seem to wrestle with a host of dramas disproportionate to that of their meager number. The situations that arise therein can be as mundane as the ongoing attempt to finger the perp who keeps stealing and returning a sex manual from the bookshop ("Yes"), or as perplexing as figuring out just whose remains those are that recently turned up on somebody's property ("Bones"). The residents of Jeffrey all seem to have pasts that haunt them. Take fitness instructor Milly Ong: She yearns for a stranger she met briefly and then reunites with him under possibly criminal circumstances ("Milly"); or independently wealthy Arlene Givens, who's desperate to reveal herself to the now-grown daughter she gave up for adoption ("Car Talk"). This is not your sleepy little New England hamlet: Voyeurism, trespassing and sex abound–sex in particular, none of it especially passionate or erotic. Despite plots entailing murder, accidental death, theft and various prejudices, the author's straight-faced storytelling and thin character development offer little reason to care about any of Jeffrey's inhabitants, though some scenes have the power to catch the reader unaware, e.g., when a girl is brutally assaulted during a date she was already reluctant to go on (title story). Small-town conventions and narrative dryness recall Updike's Trust Me, sans the master's inimitable talent for blunt exposition. The narrative tone of these tales suggest a 1950s milieu, thus jarring the reader with what would be anachronistic references to the Internet and 9/11, for example.

Brookhouse isn't exactly treading on Peyton Place turf, but he sticks to the idea that, no matter how quiet and laid-back a place and its friendly folk may seem, you can be sure that melodrama and debauchery are at play behind closed doors. In the right hands, interesting film potential.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 1936

ISBN: 0-9665798-6-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2011

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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