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TRONDHEIM

An X-ray picture of the subcutaneous breaks and sprains in a rocky relationship.

When their son collapses, an unhappy couple travels to his bedside, leaving behind none of their exquisitely described marital baggage.

Together for a quarter century, Alba and Lil are enduring an ordinarily unpleasant day at their home in the south of France—house renovation, subterranean power struggles, overt bickering—when they get a call that their 20-year-old son, Pierre, studying in the Norwegian city of Trondheim, has had a heart attack and died. Resuscitated, he now lies comatose in a hospital. Pierre might wake up fine. He might wake up with brain damage. He might not wake up at all. Lil “had often fantasized that a great life crisis would bring focus and calm. How maddening, now, that Alba seemed determined to make it another version of their petty everyday game.” Maddening indeed, but Alba is hardly the only troublemaker in either the relationship or in Irish writer James’ delicate, incisive third novel. Blunt, horny, and unsentimental, Lil, a former rugby player, handles the stress of Pierre’s catastrophe by acting out: She hits a Trondheim gay bar, initiates a flirtation, hatches a scheme, drinks. Alba, moderate and more conventional, judges and withholds. Again and again, James captures with forensic accuracy the subtle tensions in the marriage. Consider Alba’s purchase of an airport coffee for Lil: “Lil peeled off the lid and peered into the cup. ‘That’s the way she gave it to me,’ Alba said. ‘What did you ask for?' 'If you don’t like it, don’t drink it,’ Alba said. This was the problem they called 'dairy.' It was an alibi, Alba knew, for something far more personal and far less precise.” Pierre’s medical situation is acute and dramatic, but the women’s marital troubles, mundane and chronic, are the real subject of this extraordinary and meticulous little book.

An X-ray picture of the subcutaneous breaks and sprains in a rocky relationship.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781954276239

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

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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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SWAN SONG

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

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A stranger comes to town, and a beloved storyteller plays this creative-writing standby for all it’s worth.

Hilderbrand fans, a vast and devoted legion, will remember Blond Sharon, the notorious island gossip. In what is purportedly the last of the Nantucket novels, Blond Sharon decides to pursue her lifelong dream of fiction writing. In the collective opinion of the island—aka the “cobblestone telegraph”—she’s qualified. “Well, we think, she’s certainly demonstrated her keen interest in other people’s stories, the seedier and more salacious, the better.” Blond Sharon’s first assignment in her online creative writing class is to create a two-person character study, and Hilderbrand has her write up the two who arrive on the ferry in an opening scene of the book, using the same descriptors Hilderbrand has. Amusingly, the class is totally unimpressed. “‘I found it predictable,’ Willow said. ‘Like maybe Sharon used ChatGPT with the prompt “Write a character study about two women getting off the ferry, one prep and one punk.”’” Blond Sharon abandons these characters, but Hilderbrand thankfully does not. They are Kacy Kapenash, daughter of retiring police chief Ed Kapenash (the other swan song referred to by the title), and her new friend Coco Coyle, who has given up her bartending job in the Virgin Islands to become a “personal concierge” for the other strangers-who-have-come-to-town. These are the Richardsons, Bull and Leslee, a wild and wealthy couple who have purchased a $22 million beachfront property and plan to take Nantucket by storm. As the book opens, their house has burned down during an end-of-summer party on their yacht, and Coco is missing, feared both responsible for the fire and dead. Though it’s the last weekend of his tenure, Chief Ed refuses to let the incoming chief, Zara Washington, take this one over. The investigation goes forward in parallel with a review of the summer’s intrigues, love affairs, and festivities. Whatever else you can say about Leslee Richardson, she knows how to throw a party, and Hilderbrand is just the writer to design her invitations, menus, themes, playlists, and outfits. And that hot tub!

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780316258876

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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