Who knew hot sex could be such a drag.

22 MINUTES OF UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

Merkin, whose nonfiction has dealt with her own depression and sexual obsessions, now offers a “novel about a sexual obsession.”

Narrator Judith Stone, a New York City writer securely married to radiologist Richard and pregnant with their second child, announces to the reader that she's writing the story of an intensely carnal affair years before her marriage because it still haunts her in ways she wants to resolve. Judith writes about her younger self in the third person as a character in a novel, but here and there narrator Judith breaks into the story to offer what she calls digressions and speak directly to the reader about her thoughts and writing process. Unfortunately, this potentially interesting concept falls flat because character-Judith and narrator-Judith offer the same compulsive self-analyzing. Character-Judith’s affair occurred when she was a young book editor with a limited sexual history despite what narrator-Judith calls “striking looks.” The object of her affection, or at least lust, was Howard Rose, a criminal lawyer at least 10 years her senior, whom she met at a party three weeks after her adored therapist’s death—transference upon transference. Judith and Howard carried on for the next eight months. According to Judith, sex with Howard Rose was 50 shades of ecstasy and awakened her previously dormant capacity for erotic passion. But the repeated descriptions of insertions and wetness become a blur of run-of-the-mill physical machinations and phone sex. Character-Judith considered Howard “a jerk,” maybe even a pervert. Or was he simply an aggressive lawyer-type settled into middle-aged bachelorhood? Maybe she shouldn’t have disparaged his early warning that “I’m the wrong guy” for her because he was too old and poor. But narrator-Judith has little interest in Howard as a human being with feelings and motivations. Despite displays of social wit and literary smarts, Judith fails as both narrator and character, not because she is untrustworthy but because her self-absorption is boring.

Who knew hot sex could be such a drag.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-14038-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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