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FAMILIARIS

For all the eons it may take to read it, this colossus of a book will own you.

A great American novel of people and passions and ideas—and, of course, dogs.

For the many fans of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008), this ambitious and captivating prequel focuses on that character’s grandfather, John Sawtelle. Its nearly 1,200 pages begin in 1919 when John, who has been working as a road-tester at a car factory, finds a perfect piece of land when his jalopy breaks down in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin, where he surprises his dog, Gus, by walking 63 yards on his hands. John won’t take possession of this inspiring tract for another 300-some pages, necessary to introduce the key characters and elements Wroblewski has invented to populate his cabinet of wonders. Characters include a giant carpenter named Elbow; a World War I amputee named Frank Eckling; John’s brilliant and sensitive soulmate, Mary; a logger named So Jack Von Osten and his huge horse, Granddaddy, who can both count and give romantic counseling. Elements: none more important than a fictional 1897 volume called Practical Agriculture and Free Will by George Solomon Drencher, the source of John’s conviction that life’s purpose is to “Seek, seek, seek—the Singularism!” John’s singularism is of course encapsulated in the breed of dog he and Mary will eventually develop, the Sawtelle dog; you’ll wait another few hundred pages for that to emerge, but the delights along the way are manifold. Like this comparison of whiskey and brandy: “Whiskey tasted like some­thing squeezed out of an oak plank, like mentholated gasoline. Brandy was composed of equal parts sunlight and lava. Where whiskey came home looking for an argument, brandy noticed how truly simpatico you were.” One of the darker parts of the book focuses on a terrible incident involving John and Mary’s sons, setting the stage for events readers of Edgar will recall with a chill. A hilarious and moving section toward the end—by now it’s the late 1950s—follows John’s attempts to write a book called Familiaris, in which the author may or may not reveal secrets of his craft. Already having drawn comparisons to Russo, Irving, Strout, McCarthy, and Gilbert, with García Márquez added here, Wroblewski earns them all, amply rewarding readers who have been waiting impatiently for 15 years.

For all the eons it may take to read it, this colossus of a book will own you.

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9798212194297

Page Count: 980

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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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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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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