Pinckney’s discursive novel, coming across as if it were a late-20th-century hipster version of Rilke’s The Notebooks of...



He’s black. He’s gay. He’s a recovering substance abuser. And he’s running around Berlin during the 1980s. For the most part, Pinckney's novel succeeds at being as intriguing as its premise.

His name is Jed and, like the protagonist of Pinckney’s 1992 debut, High Cotton, he's a young, ferociously intelligent product of an accomplished African-American family based in the Midwest; in this case, Chicago, where he finds himself constricted and chafing. Restless for adventure and reinvention, Jed seeks both in West Berlin during the final decade of its walled-off existence. Invoking the name of Christopher Isherwood, he declares at the start that gay sex, even with the advent of AIDS, is what beckons him to Germany. “Berlin,” he says, “meant white boys who wanted to atone for Germany’s crimes by loving a black boy like me.” He spends several summers in Germany, staying with his cousin Cello, an imposing, imperious classical pianist. By the time he decides to stay there for good, Jed has gone into rehab and fights off temptations to reacquaint himself with white wine and designer drugs. At one point in his odyssey, he works as a writer for a celebrated architect whose ambitious proposals to rehabilitate whole sections of Berlin mirror Jed’s own attempt to forge a bold new identity. Meanwhile, he seeks out Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with black soldiers; engages with the burgeoning, multicultural nightlife in seedy, neo-bohemian bars; falls in and out of love, sometimes requited, sometimes not. Those looking for a straightforward narrative path toward self-discovery will not find it here. The story shifts back and forth from Chicago to Berlin, from Jed’s adolescence to adulthood. What sustains your attention throughout these sometimes-disorienting transitions is Pinckney’s dolefully witty and incisively observant voice, whether describing the quirks of his hero’s family (“When the going gets rough, make pancakes,” Jed’s father advises) or evoking the sights, sounds, and even smells of West Berlin, “the involuntary island, that petri dish of romantic radicalism.”

Pinckney’s discursive novel, coming across as if it were a late-20th-century hipster version of Rilke’s The Notebooks of Marte Laurids Brigge, typifies an era in which inventive, idiosyncratic styles flourish anew in African-American writing.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-11381-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.


A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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