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SLEEPWALK

All the ingredients of a dark speculative tale imperfectly assembled.

A mercenary’s life is upended by the appearance of his (perhaps) daughter and a series of attendant problems.

The narrator of Chaon’s disappointing fourth novel is a 50-year-old fixer/courier hired to perform “petty acts of industrial espionage or [mess] with the results of a local school board election.” (The near-future U.S. is mostly offscreen, but pandemics, recessions, and blockades led by hair-trigger private militias are disruptive enough to necessitate such independent contractors.) Billy (one of his many aliases) is interrupted on the road by repeated calls from Cammie, a young woman claiming not only that she’s his daughter via a sperm donation made in his youth, but that he has many more offspring besides. Billy is troubled not just by the news, but by the breach of security that allowed Cammie to reach him, and plenty more paranoia ensues. Is Cammie an agent of somebody he’s fallen afoul of or a bot? Flashbacks to Billy’s past explain his various reasons for anxiety, from his mother on down, and Chaon gives his lead an appealingly noirish, skeptical voice. In his earlier fiction, Chaon demonstrated a talent for conjuring dark moods and characters with fractured families, so a dystopian tale that reshuffles traditional stories about midlife crises and long-lost children would seem a fine fit for him. But this novel never quite finds its footing, shifting from backstory to an increasingly convoluted assortment of cult types and mercenaries; it doesn’t help that the central relationship between Billy and Cammie is conducted via phone, which brings a chilly distance to the narrative. The technology Chaon imagines is diverting—large, menacing, farm-protecting robots, suspiciously adorable surveillance drones—but the most tender relationship is a B-plot involving Billy and his dog, whose travails are sometimes more interesting than the humans'.

All the ingredients of a dark speculative tale imperfectly assembled.

Pub Date: May 24, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-17521-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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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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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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