An intelligent and vivid consideration of the embodiedness of memory, if not a particularly engrossing story.

ANTIQUITIES

An aging trustee of a patrician boys’ school looks back on his years there.

This slim new novel from Ozick, a nonagenarian giant of Jewish American writing, is presented as the school-days memoirs of Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, a trustee of Temple Academy for Boys. His entry is purportedly only one part of a project he has undertaken along with the school’s other trustees (all of whom, including him, are WASPs). As he reflects on what the school meant to him, the journal entry–style vignettes are interrupted more and more frequently due to his ailments and other aspects of aging—which is perhaps Ozick’s real theme here. Throughout the novella, memory is embodied in objects: From the special family heirlooms that his father acquired on expeditions in Egypt (a scarab ring; a curious bejeweled storklike sculpture) to more seemingly banal objects (the Remington typewriter with which Petrie records the story; the pages themselves), Ozick shows how objects can powerfully represent the past and how our perspective on that past can be colored by the passing of time. But the object that holds most interest in Petrie’s remembrances is another boy at school—the formidably named Ben-Zion Elefantin, whose murky past and heritage interest and frighten Petrie. Their unlikely friendship, and its homoerotic undertones, consumes much of Petrie’s musings. Central to these musings is Elefantin’s unfamiliar Jewish heritage and ties to Egypt, which faced much scrutiny at (the pointedly named) Temple Academy. Petrie vacillates between awareness of (if not regret about) the prejudice Jewish students faced and unthinking perpetuation of garden-variety WASP antisemitism ("In my own Academy years I saw for myself how inbred is that notorious Israelite clannishness"). The antiquities of the book’s title, then, are not only the objects—which Petrie excitedly shows to Elefantin—but the views, emotions, and experiences Petrie and his schoolmates once held, and perhaps still hold, changed as they have been over the years. What we have here is more a character study than a developed story, but Ozick’s talent shines through nonetheless; the prose itself is virtuosic.

An intelligent and vivid consideration of the embodiedness of memory, if not a particularly engrossing story.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31882-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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