Generally beautiful, sometimes unconvincing—very much a debut.

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BARKER HOUSE

A collection of linked stories that explore an often overlooked class within our criminal justice system: corrections officers.

New Hampshire’s Barker County Correctional Facility, colloquially known as the Barker House, is a squalid, private, for-profit jail staffed by men and women trying to juggle work in the jail—where the general consensus is “this place will change you”—with their angry children, dying parents, second jobs, and DUIs. Most would rather have been police officers but, lacking connections, education, or military experience, settled instead for life in corrections. Some, like Brenner, the only female officer on her shift, are perplexed by “abrasive” officers who consider their jobs a sentence, “every task a trial, every inmate an enemy.” Others, like Kelley, a pacifistic young officer who objects to a beating he witnesses in the House, ultimately do change: Kelley eerily manages to dehumanize inmates while maintaining his nonviolent nature, referring to them only by their inmate numbers. In his daring, important, though at times uneven debut, Moloney, himself a former corrections officer, demonstrates a keen sense for detail and an intimate knowledge of his subject. In one moment he shows us the creativity of the small-scale sadist—Mankins, on the restricted unit, opens the rec yard door on frigid winter mornings when his inmates are trying to enjoy their showers—yet in the next shows us Big Mike, who moonlights as a bouncer at a strip club and whose father is dying of cancer, allowing his female inmates to “wear eye makeup they’d made from colored pencil shavings” on visiting days even though makeup is against the rules. The power of Moloney’s crisp observations, however, is partially diminished by some very careless sentences (“In the way of Tully’s happiness seemed to be his marriage but he would never say”) and his often repetitive story structure. Read the end of the first chapter—in which Mankins, our quiet sadist, towel-dries a crippled, freezing inmate while still not shutting the door—and you’re like Wowzers, that’s complicated, nicely done; but when the same formula is applied to a half-dozen more endings, one begins—in between those brilliant details—to disbelieve the construct.

Generally beautiful, sometimes unconvincing—very much a debut.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-416-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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