A take on the age-old fact-versus-fiction dilemma that’s by turns insightful and obvious.

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THE DANCE OF LIGHT AND SHADOW

A writer throws himself into his work with dangerous consequences in this debut novel.

Xander wakes up to the sound of high heels in the apartment above him every day. When he finally meets the woman wearing them, Belle, he learns that the two of them have something devastating in common. Xander’s son committed suicide years before, and Belle’s son recently died in a car accident. As Belle copes with serious problems concerning her other son, Xander acts part supportive, part sleazy, engaging her in intense philosophical conversations about the need to find momentary pleasure in a cruel and absurd world. In some ways, he earnestly seeks to pass on his firsthand understanding of bereavement; but how convenient, really, that one of these proposed delights is to sleep with him. In his frustration and helplessness over their stalled affair, he turns to his latest novel. It’s as though he applies for asylum from the real world through his imagination, but instead of finding relief, the emotional landscape of his book becomes ever more complex and intertwined with his own. The protagonists, Rebecca and Tomas, fall desperately in love despite major hindrances: She is married and he is a priest. They wrestle with the meaning of devotion, romantic and religious, in a manner that clearly reflects their maker. But gradually, scenes in Xander’s life also begin to echo his creation until, Julio Cortázar–like, the two become virtually indistinguishable. Stoner (The Dream, 2014) smartly maintains tension in Xander’s character, making it difficult to determine if he’s caring or manipulative in his interactions with Belle. Similarly, the way Xander laments his own flaws often comes across as intriguingly disingenuous, amounting to the view that life is so much more difficult for someone as deep as he is. Perhaps as a consequence, the philosophical questions about time, love, and loss prove slightly too reductive and repetitive to be as stimulating as Stoner might hope. But there are still plenty of worthy intellectual bones to gnaw on here.   

A take on the age-old fact-versus-fiction dilemma that’s by turns insightful and obvious.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64111-082-2

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Palmetto Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2019

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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