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ENEMY COMBATANT

A searingly insightful, tragicomic adventure that lays bare personal and political fault lines.

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An American man in turmoil pursues a disastrous plan to right the wrongs of extraordinary rendition in this novel.

When he was growing up, Peter Shipman saw his father—once a fiery activist for civil rights and against the Vietnam War—descend into an angry, liquor-fueled viewer of fight-the-system movies. Admiring his father’s principles, if not the man himself, Peter becomes determined to wage similar battles; “Jim Crow was dead, but there was Ronald Reagan to contend with.” Now, in 2005, 32-year-old Peter designs web pages and is married to Sarah, a prosecuting attorney expecting their first child. Learning that his mother, Alice, is failing after a botched emergency surgery, Peter rushes from Brooklyn to Phoenix. At his dying mother’s hospital bed, Peter boils over with rage at everyone he holds responsible, not just the heart surgeon, but also Arizona itself (full of Republicans), the George W. Bush administration, and its war crimes. Back home, Peter waits for Sarah to go to bed every night. He then gets wasted and doomscrolls the internet: “He wasn’t normally what you’d call an angry drunk, but the words Bush, torture, Arizona, and Alice burned through his gut like savage heart burn.” When things come to a head, Sarah kicks him out for four months, their future reconciliation depending on whether he gains equilibrium. An invitation abroad from his similarly debauched college roommate, Leonard Kaufman, promises a welcome distraction until, on a trip through Georgia, Peter learns of secret CIA prisons there and in nearby Armenia. Peter conceives a desperate plan to find one of the prisons, photograph it, break in, and release the inmates with Leonard’s help. Though Peter and Leonard couldn’t be more unqualified, the misbegotten, sometimes comic mission has some unlikely success but inevitably is marred by an unforgettable and futile tragedy.

In his third novel, Winner constructs a train-wreck scenario that readers can’t look away from no matter how gruesome it becomes. While the two friends’ goals are laughably out of reach, the author makes each step of the journey plausible in itself as Peter and Leonard stumble through one misadventure after another, degenerating all the way. Winner also manages the feat of giving these escapades the taut excitement of a macho-patriotic action thriller—or rather, its warped, fun-house-mirror reflection. Many readers will sympathize with Peter’s fury at the government’s role in torturing prisoners held in black-op sites and understand his fantasy of doing something about it. But the author’s subtle, intelligent characterization makes clear that however well-earned Peter’s rage against the machine is, that machine is also a convenient target that allows him to displace intolerable emotions or avoid honest self-evaluation. Similarly, Peter deflects grappling with how he’s destroying his marriage by caricaturing Sarah as someone who’s always playing the prosecutor during their arguments: “She couldn’t say, ‘objection, your honor,’ because she wasn’t in the courtroom.” In the end, Peter remains rightly haunted by his actions and their poignant consequences.

A searingly insightful, tragicomic adventure that lays bare personal and political fault lines.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-944853-75-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Tablo

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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