A great story, too little known in this country, and an invaluable treasure for both its suggestive contemporary relevance...

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THE TÁIN

The Irish poet and author best known in the United States for his wonderful autobiography The Star Factory (1998) offers a new translation of his country’s ebullient epic tale, also known as “The Cattle Raid of Cooley.”

It’s actually one segment of the larger Táin Bó Cúailnge, itself part of the 8th-century Ulster Cycle, which celebrates the deeds of the prehistoric inhabitants of Northern Ireland. In an introductory section, Carson mostly suggests that his Táin be viewed as “commentary” on and “tribute” to Thomas Kinsella’s near-legendary 1969 translation. Yet the elegant introductory section bespeaks his authority as much as do the vigorous rhythms of the agreeably blood-drenched narrative he translates: a combination of prose and verse, as it happens, with roots in and debts to the epics of Homer and Virgil and the stories of the Christian Bible. The story begins when Queen Medb of Connacht, jealous of her husband King Ailill’s possession of a fertile white bull, negotiates the loan of a great brown bull owned by the king of Ulster. When it is learned the men of Connacht were prepared to use force, agreements are voided and a catastrophic “raid” ensues—in which Ulster’s stalwart teenaged hero Cú Chulainn prevails in single combat against successive Connacht challengers (including those who shape-shift into fearsome nonhuman creatures). Hyperbole attends both the combatants’ frequently exchanged boasts and the core narrative (e.g., “In that great massacre…Cú Chullain slew seven score and ten kings as well as innumerable dogs and horses, women and children, not to mention underlings and rabble”). Ominous visions attend the climactic three-day battle between Cú Chullain and Connacht’s champion Fer Diad (the former’s foster brother and friend)—which is succeeded by the clashing of the great bulls themselves, then the arrangement of a peace between Ulster and Connacht.

A great story, too little known in this country, and an invaluable treasure for both its suggestive contemporary relevance and its elemental beauty and power.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01868-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2007

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A gut-wrenching debut.

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MY DARK VANESSA

The #MeToo movement forces a struggling young woman to confront the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past.

At 15, Vanessa Wye falls for her English teacher at Browick, a private boarding school. Jacob Strane is 42, "big, broad, and so tall that his shoulders hunch as though his body wants to apologize for taking up so much space." Strane woos Vanessa with Nabokov's novels, Plath's poetry, and furtive caresses in his back office. "I think we're very similar, Nessa," Strane tells her during a one-on-one conference. "I can tell from the way you write that you're a dark romantic like me." Soon, Vanessa is reveling in her newfound power of attraction, pursuing sleepovers at Strane's house, and conducting what she feels is a secret affair right under the noses of the administration. More than 15 years later, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Taylor Birch, another young woman from Browick, publicly accuses Strane of sexual abuse. When a young journalist reaches out to Vanessa to corroborate Taylor's story, Vanessa's world begins to unravel. "Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it," Vanessa tells herself. Russell weaves Vanessa's memories of high school together with the social media–saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Russell's debut is a rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse, and her novel asks readers both to take Vanessa's assertions of agency at face value and to determine the real, psychological harm perpetrated against her by an abusive adult. What emerges is a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. "The excuses we make for them are outrageous," Vanessa concludes about abusive men, "but they're nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves."

A gut-wrenching debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294150-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled...

A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD

A riveting, potentially redemptive story of modern American suburbia that reads almost like an ancient Greek tragedy.

When the Whitmans, a nouveau riche white family, move into a sprawling, newly built house next door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor of forestry and ecology, and her musically gifted, biracial 18-year-old son, Xavier, in a modest, diverse North Carolina neighborhood of cozy ranch houses on wooded lots, it is clear from the outset things will not end well. The neighborhood itself, which serves as the novel’s narrator and chorus, tells us so. The story begins on “a Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them,” we are informed in the book’s opening paragraph. “Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who’s to blame.” The exact nature of the tragedy that has been foretold and questions of blame come into focus gradually as a series of events is set inexorably in motion when the Whitmans’ cloistered 17-year-old daughter, Juniper, encounters Xavier. The two teenagers tumble into a furtive, pure-hearted romance even as Xavier’s mom and Juniper’s stepfather, Brad, a slick operator who runs a successful HVAC business and has secrets of his own, lock horns in a legal battle over a dying tree. As the novel builds toward its devastating climax, it nimbly negotiates issues of race and racism, class and gentrification, sex and sexual violence, environmental destruction and other highly charged topics. Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman, 2018, etc.) empathetically conjures nuanced characters we won’t soon forget, expertly weaves together their stories, and imbues the plot with a sense of inevitability and urgency. In the end, she offers an opportunity for catharsis as well as a heartfelt, hopeful call to action.

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled times.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-23727-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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