An engrossing, interior mother-daughter story that expands into a sharp social commentary.

WAYWARD

A woman pursuing a midlife reset finds her received notions about domesticity and justice unraveling.

In her previous smart, spiky novels, Spiotta explored the tenuous bonds between brothers and sisters (Stone Arabia, 2011) and female friends (Innocents and Others, 2016). Here the themes are motherhood and marriage, as Sam, a 50-something woman, attempts to reboot her life after Trump’s election. The protest groups she joins on Facebook are contentious (one is called “Hardcore Hags, Harridans, and Harpies”), which she at first finds inspirational. On an impulse, she leaves her marriage and buys a dilapidated historic house in Syracuse. But she still needs her husband’s financial support (she works part time in the historic home of a “problematic” 19th-century feminist), and the infighting among her activist friends soon becomes confounding. (She’s strong-armed into signing a petition censuring one woman for unexplained transgressions.) Lost in the shuffle is Sam’s ailing mother as well as Ally, her 16-year-old daughter, who's an academic high achiever seduced by her 29-year-old mentor in an entrepreneurship program. Sam processes all this in irrational, woman-on-the-brink ways (keying a truck, a disastrous turn at a stand-up open mic) that are typical in domestic-crisis novels. But Spiotta’s characterization of Sam is more complicated and slippery, as she begins to recognize that the entrapment she feels is as much a function of broader forces she’s helpless to control; shifting between Sam's and Ally’s perspectives, Spiotta asks how much leeway a mother has in a society in which patriarchal attitudes carry so much weight. A violent act at the tail end of the novel both clarifies and complicates the predicament, and Spiotta artfully contextualizes Sam’s existential crisis as part of her hometown's history. As Sam asks, for herself, and everybody: "What happened to us? When did progress become so ugly?"

An engrossing, interior mother-daughter story that expands into a sharp social commentary.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31873-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE

After winning back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes for his previous two books, Whitehead lets fly with a typically crafty change-up: a crime novel set in mid-20th-century Harlem.

The twin triumphs of The Underground Railroad (2016) and The Nickel Boys (2019) may have led Whitehead’s fans to believe he would lean even harder on social justice themes in his next novel. But by now, it should be clear that this most eclectic of contemporary masters never repeats himself, and his new novel is as audacious, ingenious, and spellbinding as any of his previous period pieces. Its unlikely and appealing protagonist is Ray Carney, who, when the story begins in 1959, is expecting a second child with his wife, Elizabeth, while selling used furniture and appliances on Harlem’s storied, ever bustling 125th Street. Ray’s difficult childhood as a hoodlum’s son forced to all but raise himself makes him an exemplar of the self-made man to everybody but his upper-middle-class in-laws, aghast that their daughter and grandchildren live in a small apartment within earshot of the subway tracks. Try as he might, however, Ray can’t quite wrest free of his criminal roots. To help make ends meet as he struggles to grow his business, Ray takes covert trips downtown to sell lost or stolen jewelry, some of it coming through the dubious means of Ray’s ne’er-do-well cousin, Freddie, who’s been getting Ray into hot messes since they were kids. Freddie’s now involved in a scheme to rob the Hotel Theresa, the fabled “Waldorf of Harlem," and he wants his cousin to fence whatever he and his unsavory, volatile cohorts take in. This caper, which goes wrong in several perilous ways, is only the first in a series of strenuous tests of character and resources Ray endures from the back end of the 1950s to the Harlem riots of 1964. Throughout, readers will be captivated by a Dickensian array of colorful, idiosyncratic characters, from itchy-fingered gangsters to working-class women with a low threshold for male folly. What’s even more impressive is Whitehead’s densely layered, intricately woven rendering of New York City in the Kennedy era, a time filled with both the bright promise of greater economic opportunity and looming despair due to the growing heroin plague. It's a city in which, as one character observes, “everybody’s kicking back or kicking up. Unless you’re on top.”

As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54513-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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