At turns savage and comic, Vann’s richly complex novel does what the best literature does: It makes demands on its readers.


After his widely acclaimed first novel, Vann touches on some of the same themes here: enlightenment through labor, the inevitability of violence, the contentious relationship between mother and son.

Vann takes us to the early ’80s in California’s Central Valley. Galen, in his 20s, lives on a crumbling family estate. Grandma, rich but with Alzheimer’s, has been dispatched to an old-folks home, leaving just Galen and his mother, Suzie-Q, to drink high tea under the fig tree. Emaciated from his attempts at earthly transcendence, Galen divides his time between reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull, listening to the strains of Kitaro and masturbating to porn. He dreams of college but is falsely told there isn’t the money. His aunt and teenage cousin Jennifer visit for venom-filled dinners after which Jennifer tortures Galen with comically sadistic sex games. Galen lives in a curious limbo: In the hodgepodge of his esoteric understanding, life is an illusion, but the temptations of desire and anger seem real enough. After a disastrous family trip to the cabin (Aunt Helen tricks Grandma into giving her a few hundred grand, Suzie-Q spies on Galen and Jennifer having sex), Galen and his mother return home, and Vann’s novel journeys to its fetid center. Galen’s mother decides to call the police on Galen for “raping” his underage cousin, and so Galen locks her in the shed. For the ensuing hundred pages Galen does battle—with his mother, their past, the very notion of reality and who owns it. It is difficult for Suzie-Q to plead mercy when Galen insists she is simply an attachment preventing his enlightenment. His labor is his meditation: shoveling dirt around the edges of the shed, nailing boards to prevent her escape. Meanwhile, his mother, illusion or not, is dying. There is something of Beckett here in their cruel conversations that never get to the heart of the matter, that always seem to affirm Galen’s slim hold on reality.  

At turns savage and comic, Vann’s richly complex novel does what the best literature does: It makes demands on its readers.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-212103-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...


From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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