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CHEMICAL VALLEY

A masterful assemblage of environmentally minded tales.

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A collection of short fiction taps into eco-compromised lives in southern Ontario.

As one character observes in Huebert’s volume, Canada is a country built on oil. The tension between resource extraction and environmental collapse—both out in the world and inside the home—is ever present in this linked cycle of 11 stories. An oil refinery worker—who ponders the increasing number of dead birds as well as his mother’s recent demise—starts thinking about how he’d like to be buried. A high school girl enters into an inappropriate relationship with her English teacher, though it’s as much about the older woman’s knowledge of plants as it is about anything sexual. The mother of a baby feels her life unravel as she tries desperately to rid her home of a mouse infestation. “The thing about rodents,” the exterminator tells the horrified woman, whose husband works at one of the many local plants, “is that they’re a lot like oil…Just like how there’s pipelines all around you but you never see them….Same thing with the rodents.” Oil is a recurring image, but it’s not just a metaphor: The black blood of these tales is squeezed from the remains of plants, animals, and human beings alike. Huebert has a razor-sharp wit and an exacting eye for human foibles, as here where he describes one character’s eco-conscious—yet decidedly not self-aware—love interest: “Daddy Issues doesn’t use social media, refuses to milk data from his flesh. He wears plaid and vegan Blundstones, grooms his beard with fine-toothed sandalwood. He has two long dimples above his pouting buttocks, likes to joke that his rear end is luscious with negative capability.” The stories are often on the longer side, and they pack a novelistic level of detail. The author manages to offer intimate portraits of human lives without ever letting readers forget the climate bubbling just outside their windows. Huebert’s assortment of activists, hockey players, preppers, and nurses find themselves on the front lines of crises in which every choice has a moral dimension—and readers will be right there with them.

A masterful assemblage of environmentally minded tales.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77196-447-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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