A little too heartfelt for its own good: Kuper’s story suffers badly from plodding along too slowly, too obsessively, and...

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HUNGER AND THIRST

An impressionistic yet hardly fleet-footed debut about a Jewish girl coming of age in the ’50s.

Irwina and Buddy Trout are a lively Chicago couple with one foot (Irwina’s) in the modern world and the other (Buddy’s) in the old neighborhood, while the couple’s daughter Joan is perpetually stuck in the middle. Charming and easygoing, Buddy met Irwina at a dance in 1941 and married her in spite of her family’s initial distaste for him. Together, they run a store called the Frock Shop that caters to the local housewives, most of them working-class ladies a generation or two removed from the Old Country. A good salesman and diligent worker, Buddy is nevertheless hampered in his trade by Irwina, whose tastes run to Schiaparelli and Chanel and who fills Buddy’s store with designer dresses that the neighborhood women won’t even buy on clearance. Most of the story is seen through Joan’s adolescent eyes, resulting in a portrait of a time and place as Joan grows up in the waning years of the European immigrants who created the urban ghettoes of the 20th century. Her mother’s extravagances—the Limoges china, the gold-tipped cigarettes, the cleaning lady—strike her neighbors as pretentious and wasteful, inspiring spiteful gossip behind Irwina’s back: “Underneath, they told themselves, Irwina Trout was just like them. Scratch her you’d find chicken fat and regret.” But the price is paid by Buddy as well, who retreats from his business woes and his wife’s condescension into an increasingly private world of magic tricks and alcohol. Joan suffers, too, but eventually (and typically), it’s Irwina who makes the first move to freedom.

A little too heartfelt for its own good: Kuper’s story suffers badly from plodding along too slowly, too obsessively, and from not really going anywhere in the end.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-20885-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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