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THIS STRANGE EVENTFUL HISTORY

Brilliant and heart-wrenching; Messud is one of contemporary literature’s best.

A family rides the waves of current events and personal conflicts across three generations.

Readers of Kant’s Little Prussian Head & Other Reasons Why I Write (2020) will recognize the autobiographical elements in Messud’s novel, but they are less important than the compelling way she has reinvented her family as fully fleshed fictional characters. Gaston and Lucienne Cassare, a French Algerian couple uprooted first by World War II and then by Algerian independence, embody for their son, François, and daughter, Denise, a loving companionship so total that both children will spend their lives looking for its equal. Denise, whose personal attachments rarely work out, clings to her parents’ devout Catholicism; François might have made a home in America—“its energy, its freedom, its carelessness” thrill him as an Amherst undergraduate—but his Canadian wife, Barbara, objects. Their peripatetic marriage survives her extended absences to care for her dying father in Toronto and the damage inflicted on his business career when she insists they leave Australia, but he can never get over the fact that Barbara always holds part of herself apart from him. Messud portrays the Cassares at key moments in their lives, beginning in Algeria as France falls in June 1940 and ranging across continents and seven decades: Geneva, Toronto, Toulon, Buenos Aires, suburban Connecticut, and New York—wherever their varied fortunes take them, with the author’s fictional stand-in, aspiring writer Chloe, and her sister, Loulou, entering as schoolgirls in 1970s Sydney. Messud paints compelling portraits of internal conflicts and tangled relationships, dropping along the way tantalizing references to crucial events that will be clarified later, in a rich narrative that defies summary. The novel reaches a poignant climax as the older generations age and die: Gaston and François succumb to physical ailments; Lucienne and Barbara descend into dementia. The marriage of François and Barbara, bitterly antagonistic but ultimately loyal, is perhaps the novel’s most wrenching depiction, but Messud’s gimlet eye and quietly masterful way with words make every character and incident gripping.

Brilliant and heart-wrenching; Messud is one of contemporary literature’s best.

Pub Date: May 14, 2024

ISBN: 9780393635041

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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