A compelling collection that captures the mystery and menace beneath love and family life.

LIFE AND OTHER SHORTCOMINGS

Adjmi’s debut collection of 12 linked short stories explores women’s lives from varying perspectives.

Characters recur in these tales, but each stands on its own. They take place in a range of eras from the 1970s to the present and take readers to various cities in the United States and Spain. All are succinct, slice-of-life stories, and at least half feature characters from the three couples introduced in the opening story, “Dinner Conversation,” which is set in New York City in 1998. The six diners are close friends who call themselves “The Sixers,” but despite their long history, they each have insecurities that will ultimately destroy their relationships. All the women in these stories navigate treacherous journeys through landscapes rife with misogyny and physical and psychological abuse. Many of the women have internalized their fears of growing older, as expressed by Kelly, the narrator of “The Drowning Girl”: “I WAS ONCE YOUNG AND PRETTY. THIS, WHO YOU SEE NOW, IS NOT ME.” Adjmi conjures convincing portraits of a variety of female characters with economical language and biting dialogue. Their relationships with men are not enviable, as most of the male characters are angry, belittling, and erratic. With piercing clarity, the author often offers an unexpected payoff in the final sentence. In “The Devil Makes Three,” for instance, Iris, an Orthodox Jew, prepares for a mikvah, a monthly ritual bath for women, before resuming marital relations. The engaging description of this arcane process is coupled with an account of Iris’ chaste online dalliance with a non-Jewish man. Readers can admire her adherence to the faith, see how restricted her life is, and end up with a sense of the sensual joy that she shares with her husband. However, not every story lands as well; some are a tad too cryptic. In the fablelike “Happily Ever After,” man loves car, woman loves man, woman destroys car, and man’s personality disintegrates. Adjmi’s take on reality is more satisfying.

A compelling collection that captures the mystery and menace beneath love and family life.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-713-5

Page Count: 170

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

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WE BEGIN AT THE END

A police chief who never grew up and a girl who never had a childhood try to solve the murder of someone they love.

A tiny, picturesque town on the California coast is an emotional prison for the characters of this impressive, often lyrical thriller. Its two main characters are a cop with an improbable naïveté and a child too old for her years. Walk (short for Walker, his last name) is chief of the two-person police department in Cape Haven and a native son. He’s kind and conscientious and haunted by a crime that occurred when he was a teenager, the death of a girl named Sissy Radley, whose body Walk discovered. Duchess Radley is that child’s niece, the daughter of Star Radley, the town’s doomed beauty. Most men lust after Star, including several of her neighbors and perhaps a sinister real estate developer named Dickie Darke. But Star is a substance abuser in a downward spiral, and her fatherless kids, Duchess and her younger brother, Robin, get, at best, Star’s benign neglect. Walk, who’s known Star since they were kids, is the family’s protector. As the book begins, all of them are coming to terms with the return to town of Vincent King. He’s Walk’s former best friend, Star’s former boyfriend, and he’s served a 30-year prison term for the death of Sissy (and that of a man he killed in prison). Someone will end up dead, and the murder mystery structures the book. But its core is Duchess, a rage-filled girl who is her brother’s tender, devoted caretaker, a beauty like her mother, and a fist-swinging fighter who introduces herself as “the outlaw Duchess Day Radley.” Whitaker crafts an absorbing plot around crimes in the present and secrets long buried, springing surprises to the very end.

A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-75966-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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