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NOVEL 11, BOOK 18

If Ingmar Bergman’s films are too cheerful for you, this is just the antidote.

Norwegian novelist Solstad delivers a grim exercise in modern literary existentialism.

Bjørn Hansen is 50 as this novel opens. He had left Oslo years before for the quiet country town of Kongsberg, the hometown of his lover, Turid Lammers, for whom he abandoned his wife and child. Now, having talked his way into the job of town treasurer by virtue of a college degree, he has left Turid, too. “This was how Bjørn Hansen’s existence had shaped up. This was his life. At Kongsberg. With Turid Lammers, this woman he had to live with because he feared he would otherwise regret everything,” writes Solstad. Turid’s sin? As director of the local theater company, she allowed Bjørn to deliver a disastrous performance in a production of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, a mirthless story perfectly at home in Bjørn’s sprawling library of similarly dour books: Kafka, Kierkegaard, Cela. Of The Family of Pascual Duarte, the brooding masterwork by the last writer, Bjørn intones, “Was it sombre enough? I mean, I liked the book, but did it go deeply enough, I mean deeply enough into my own existence?” Bjørn empties out his library when his forgotten son, Peter, bobs up to attend optometry school; Bjørn lets Peter stay in his home but steadily regrets the decision when he realizes Peter has no direction in life and is roundly disliked by his classmates. “Youths like Peter Korpi Hansen were ten a penny,” Bjørn grumbles. “All of them radiated the same intoxicating nonchalance, self-indulgence and idleness.” Like the similarly bookish Peter Kien of Elias Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé, Bjørn, too, is an ostensibly influential man without purpose or power. Steered into an insurance scam by his drug-addicted doctor when he announces his intention to “actualise his No, his great Negation,” Bjørn surrenders his will as if glad to be rid of it. The philosophical implications are many, though it’s a bit of a slog through an essentially actionless plot to get at them.

If Ingmar Bergman’s films are too cheerful for you, this is just the antidote.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2826-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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