Szalay has written a book about a man who is not unlike the rest of us, a swirling mass of contradictions, of good...

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LONDON AND THE SOUTH-EAST

Man Booker Prize finalist Szalay’s (All That Man Is, 2016, etc.) debut novel, originally published in Britain in 2008, is a satire that turns into something more.

At first glance, Szalay's novel reads as something of a portrait of the gone world, with its protagonist, a London advertising salesman named Paul Rainey, trying to nail down a pre-Brexit deal with a German medical client. What makes the narrative pop, though, is its understanding that not all that much has changed between then and now, at least not in the lives of people such as Paul. An alcoholic (“he spends perhaps two hundred pounds a week on alcohol alone,” the author tells us) and a pothead, Paul is also a devoted father figure to his stepson, Oliver, a snooker prodigy. More to the point, he's trying to keep his head above water, to take care of his responsibilities. The novel starts out reminiscent of Martin Amis’ Money, a satire on the advertising and entertainment industries. Quickly, however, it becomes a more nuanced portrait of desire and its discontents, akin to a novel by Martin’s father, Kingsley: Lucky Jim. Like Amis père, Szalay writes with real heart about his protagonist—a man lost in the middle of his own existence, insufficient in love or ambition, unable to live up to what he wants. At the same time, Paul manages to get if not exactly what he wants, then at least what he might need. After a scheme to acquire a new job goes wrong, he is left to make ends meet in whatever way he can. But while Szalay flirts with a variety of expected dissolutions, he ultimately has something more complex in mind. For Paul, losing his job turns out to be the best thing that could have happened, not because it makes life easier but because he has no choice but to engage. “What would happen,” the character wonders, “if he were to walk out, and stay out. What would he do?” The answer is that he cannot, that he needs this ramshackle life even as it confounds him: disconnections, disappointments, and all.

Szalay has written a book about a man who is not unlike the rest of us, a swirling mass of contradictions, of good intentions and less good actions: eager, desperate even, to make the best of circumstance.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55597-793-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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