Forget Canadian “niceness”; Strube’s angry, hard-boiled characters confront the same ugly problems found below the 48th...

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MISCONDUCT OF THE HEART

In this novel of one woman’s daily travails, Strube (On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light, 2016, etc.) offers a Canadian perspective on a range of contemporary issues, from immigration to PTSD to corporate greed to rape.

“Inactive alcoholic” Stevie is kitchen manager at a Toronto chain restaurant where she fights daily to maintain quality despite increasing corporate demands that her location cut corners. Chappy’s is a richly drawn, darkly comic world filled with the clashing cultures of a mostly immigrant staff, an incompetent boss whose ego Stevie adroitly manipulates, and frequent equipment problems. But the chaos also yields camaraderie, and Stevie feels more relaxed at work than in her own apartment, which she shares with her 23-year-old son, Pierce. He has returned from Afghanistan psychologically damaged, but their relationship has always been troubled. Pierce remembers a childhood in which Stevie mostly avoided her parental responsibilities and sometimes physically mistreated him. All true, Stevie acknowledges, but she has never told him the darker truth: Pierce was the product of a gang rape when Stevie was a young teen, a memory she spent her remaining adolescence and early adulthood escaping in self-destructive behaviors involving alcohol and sex. Even now, anxiously fretting over Pierce’s fragile state, she cannot admit feeling maternal love. A prickly, self-aware narrator, Stevie is a woman who, despite being liked by others, eschews emotional involvement. Then two people enter Stevie’s life: Gyorgi, a busboy from Eastern Europe around Pierce’s age who has always known he was the product of rape yet maintains a loving relationship with his Roma mother; and 4-year-old Trudy, whose drugged-out mother abandons her at Stevie’s parents’ doorstep with a note implying Pierce is her father. There may be more melodrama than necessary, but even as intimacy and affection slip into Stevie’s life, the gritty narration holds sentimentality at bay.

Forget Canadian “niceness”; Strube’s angry, hard-boiled characters confront the same ugly problems found below the 48th parallel.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77041-494-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: ECW Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

SUMMER OF '69

Nantucket, not Woodstock, is the main attraction in Hilderbrand’s (Winter in Paradise, 2018, etc.) bittersweet nostalgia piece about the summer of 1969.

As is typical with Hilderbrand’s fiction, several members of a family have their says. Here, that family is the “stitched together” Foley-Levin clan, ruled over by the appropriately named matriarch, Exalta, aka Nonny, mother of Kate Levin. Exalta’s Nantucket house, All’s Fair, also appropriately named, is the main setting. Kate’s three older children, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, are products of her first marriage, to Wilder Foley, a war veteran, who shot himself. Second husband David Levin is the father of Jessie, who’s just turned 13. Tiger has been drafted and sends dispatches to Jessie from Vietnam. Kirby has been arrested twice while protesting the war in Boston. (Don’t tell Nonny!) Blair is married and pregnant; her MIT astrophysicist husband, Angus, is depressive, controlling, and deceitful—the unmelodramatic way Angus’ faults sneak up on both Blair and the reader is only one example of Hilderbrand’s firm grasp on real life. Many plot elements are specific to the year. Kirby is further rebelling by forgoing Nantucket for rival island Martha’s Vineyard—and a hotel job close to Chappaquiddick. Angus will be working at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Kirby has difficult romantic encounters, first with her arresting officer, then with a black Harvard student whose mother has another reason, besides Kirby’s whiteness, to distrust her. Pick, grandson of Exalta’s caretaker, is planning to search for his hippie mother at Woodstock. Other complications seem very up-to-date: a country club tennis coach is a predator and pedophile. Anti-Semitism lurks beneath the club’s genteel veneer. Kate’s drinking has accelerated since Tiger’s deployment overseas. Exalta’s toughness is seemingly untempered by grandmotherly love. As always, Hilderbrand’s characters are utterly convincing and immediately draw us into their problems, from petty to grave. Sometimes, her densely packed tales seem to unravel toward the end. This is not one of those times.

To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-42001-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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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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