Necessary narratives, brilliantly crafted.


The author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (2010) looks at loss, relationships, and race in America in short fiction and a novella.

A summary of the first story in this collection might go like this: Lyssa, a woman working in the gift shop of a Titanic-themed attraction, gets a small part in a music video. That covers the bare bones of the plot, but it offers no insight into what “Happily Ever After” is really about: It’s Lyssa losing her mother to cancer, and it’s how being Black shapes—and contorts—experiences in which race most likely seems irrelevant to people who aren’t Black. Most of the pieces in this volume have a similar shape. Regardless of what the story is ostensibly about, it’s also about race because there is no escaping or eliding race. Evans writes about injustices large and small with incredible subtlety and, often, wry wit. “Boys Go to Jupiter” is a standout, largely because it feels so timely. When a boy she’s hooking up with posts a photo of her wearing a Confederate-flag bikini on social media, Claire becomes a viral villain and a pariah at her small Vermont college. On the defensive, Claire goes from being clueless to willfully obtuse and ignorantly hurtful. Scenes from her past add depth and complexity while leaving the reader to decide how these revelations affect their understanding of this character. The eponymous novella that closes the book is a stunner. Cassie works at the Institute for Public History, a federal agency designed to address “the contemporary crisis of truth.” It’s her job to correct the historical record, whether that means correcting a tourist who’s getting their facts wrong or amending a bakery’s advertisement for a Juneteenth cake. When her boss asks her to look into the work of another field agent, Cassie steps back into her own past and into a murder mystery that might not involve a murder. To say much more would only detract from storytelling that is gripping on every level.

Necessary narratives, brilliantly crafted.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59448-733-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.


Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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