Here, indeed, is a story: brilliant, high, fine, masterful, deep—whether or not there remains an audience capable of...



Those who adored experimentalist Markson’s previous two outings (Reader’s Block, 1996; This Is Not a Novel, 2001) will be ecstatic anew as the writer keeps up his near-single-handed effort to keep American prose fiction significant, deep, and subtle.

Here is another booklength collection of facts, statements, and—like planted surprises—questions, the whole arranged in a breathtakingly seamless perfection by “Author,” who has put “the notes on three-by-five inch index cards” and at last “is pretty sure that most of them are basically in the sequence that he wants.” And what a sequence it is. Comic, bathetic, pathetic, wrenching, matter-of-fact (“Bach had twenty children, of whom nine survived him”), the entries manage to tell a story—of humanity and humanity’s desires, if you will—without ever once straining to do so, or at least without ever once showing the strain. “The first edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species sold out in one day,” we learn, and, later, “Baltimore, Edgar Allen Poe died in.” The result of Markson’s immersion in these and many other such facts, and of his ineluctably perfect marshalling of them, is a kind of mini-epic—small in proportion and therefore appropriate to our own paltry, lost, uninformed, and diminished age—of Western humanity’s long ambition toward the attainment of art, permanence, beauty, and meaning, all implicitly doomed by the pervasive banality and pseudo-bathos that we’ve degenerated into in our own day: a situation requiring that the tale now be told not in the broad strokes of real epic, but in the quietly understated, guarded, cautious, brilliantly organized yet unobtrusive listing of facts, queries, and assertions that Markson provides—ranging from “a terminal desolation and despair” to the plain fact that “Ravenna, Dante died in,” or “Brundisium, Virgil.” “The ways we miss our lives are life,” we read, wondering whether Author himself penned these words. Then, more sad than is imaginable: “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story. Said Isak Dinesen.”

Here, indeed, is a story: brilliant, high, fine, masterful, deep—whether or not there remains an audience capable of embracing it.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2004

ISBN: 1-59376-010-8

Page Count: 191

Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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A gut-wrenching debut.

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The #MeToo movement forces a struggling young woman to confront the abusive relationship that defines her sexual and romantic past.

At 15, Vanessa Wye falls for her English teacher at Browick, a private boarding school. Jacob Strane is 42, "big, broad, and so tall that his shoulders hunch as though his body wants to apologize for taking up so much space." Strane woos Vanessa with Nabokov's novels, Plath's poetry, and furtive caresses in his back office. "I think we're very similar, Nessa," Strane tells her during a one-on-one conference. "I can tell from the way you write that you're a dark romantic like me." Soon, Vanessa is reveling in her newfound power of attraction, pursuing sleepovers at Strane's house, and conducting what she feels is a secret affair right under the noses of the administration. More than 15 years later, at the height of the #MeToo movement, Taylor Birch, another young woman from Browick, publicly accuses Strane of sexual abuse. When a young journalist reaches out to Vanessa to corroborate Taylor's story, Vanessa's world begins to unravel. "Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it," Vanessa tells herself. Russell weaves Vanessa's memories of high school together with the social media–saturated callout culture of the present moment, as Vanessa struggles to determine whether the love story she has told about herself is, in fact, a tragedy of unthinkable proportions. Russell's debut is a rich psychological study of the aftermath of abuse, and her novel asks readers both to take Vanessa's assertions of agency at face value and to determine the real, psychological harm perpetrated against her by an abusive adult. What emerges is a devastating cultural portrait of enablement and the harm we allow young women to shoulder. "The excuses we make for them are outrageous," Vanessa concludes about abusive men, "but they're nothing compared with the ones we make for ourselves."

A gut-wrenching debut.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294150-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled...


A riveting, potentially redemptive story of modern American suburbia that reads almost like an ancient Greek tragedy.

When the Whitmans, a nouveau riche white family, move into a sprawling, newly built house next door to Valerie Alston-Holt, a black professor of forestry and ecology, and her musically gifted, biracial 18-year-old son, Xavier, in a modest, diverse North Carolina neighborhood of cozy ranch houses on wooded lots, it is clear from the outset things will not end well. The neighborhood itself, which serves as the novel’s narrator and chorus, tells us so. The story begins on “a Sunday afternoon in May when our neighborhood is still maintaining its tenuous peace, a loose balance between old and new, us and them,” we are informed in the book’s opening paragraph. “Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who’s to blame.” The exact nature of the tragedy that has been foretold and questions of blame come into focus gradually as a series of events is set inexorably in motion when the Whitmans’ cloistered 17-year-old daughter, Juniper, encounters Xavier. The two teenagers tumble into a furtive, pure-hearted romance even as Xavier’s mom and Juniper’s stepfather, Brad, a slick operator who runs a successful HVAC business and has secrets of his own, lock horns in a legal battle over a dying tree. As the novel builds toward its devastating climax, it nimbly negotiates issues of race and racism, class and gentrification, sex and sexual violence, environmental destruction and other highly charged topics. Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman, 2018, etc.) empathetically conjures nuanced characters we won’t soon forget, expertly weaves together their stories, and imbues the plot with a sense of inevitability and urgency. In the end, she offers an opportunity for catharsis as well as a heartfelt, hopeful call to action.

Traversing topics of love, race, and class, this emotionally complex novel speaks to—and may reverberate beyond—our troubled times.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-23727-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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