BOTTLE GROVE

A clunky, garbled novel about marriage, greed, and deception in Silicon Valley at the height of the tech boom.

Consumed by their baser natures, two San Francisco couples struggle to find happiness within the confines of marriage and immense wealth.

Martin Icke, a down-on-his-luck barman, mixes bespoke cocktails at the wedding of Rachel, an anxious socialite about to marry Ben Nickels, a kindly tech underling. Midswizzle, Martin falls for Padgett, a poor-little-rich-girl with an ill-concealed substance abuse problem moonlighting as a waitress. The wedding is disrupted by the trickster wiles of Reynard, a hedonistic spirit that haunts the would-be monogamists of the book, reminding them of their animalistic desires. Affairs, animal experiments, potential kidnappings, and thefts ensue. In particular, Padgett and Martin concoct a scheme to put Padgett in the way of the Vic, a tech scion à la Zuckerberg and Jobs who has invented software that tracks your every move and stores it in "the Trail." If only Padgett can capture the Vic's interest, perhaps she can redistribute the immense wealth of Silicon Valley back into the pockets of a man like Martin. Handler (All the Dirty Parts, 2017, etc.) draws on fables like "Reynard the Fox" to comment on the inhumanity of his characters and tips his hat to noir films like Rebecca to pluck at the threads of the marriage plot. Instead of giving readers new ways to think about marriage or cruelty, however, these literary allusions only muddy the waters in a novel overly interested in solipsistic caricature and jagged, cynical pronouncements. Marriage is both a "big con" and "a civilizing influence." Gentrification is the "prowling," beastly instinct of the tech bro. Characters quip endlessly, repeating the same tiresome steps in Handler's wordplay shuffles. "You're icky, Icke," Padgett tells Martin at some point. Reynard's appearance is "not ghastly, just ghostly." A drunkard watches a bar "shimmer as if in a breezy breeze." While the brutal inhumanities of startup culture are ripe for satire and criticism, this novel fails to deliver even a glancing blow.

A clunky, garbled novel about marriage, greed, and deception in Silicon Valley at the height of the tech boom.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63286-427-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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THE GREAT ALONE

A tour de force.

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In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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