Considerably more mature than its predecessors, and just as scathingly brilliant with words, but this author is definitely...

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LIGHTS OUT IN WONDERLAND

Man Booker winner Pierre (Ludmila’s Broken English, 2006, etc.) continues on his polarizing way with another extreme adventure, this one undertaken by a narrator who plans to kill himself.

Readers may not feel too terrible about that, since Gabriel, like Pierre’s protagonist in Vernon God Little (2002), is initially as obnoxious as he is motor-mouthed. Just checked into rehab by his father, Gabriel puffs defiantly on cigarettes while ranting about capitalism and messing with the staff. Soon he slips away for a final pre-suicide bacchanal with his best friend Smuts, who’s working at an ultra-exclusive Tokyo restaurant that serves poisonous (and illegal) fugu to those who can afford it. Unfortunately, once Gabriel gets done loading him up with coke and booze, Smuts recklessly takes the challenge of a customer who wants the fish’s extra-toxic liver. The customer winds up in the hospital, and Smuts in jail. The only way Gabriel can spring him is by getting Smuts’ shadowy “sponsor,” Didier Le Basque, to pull strings. And the only way to do that is to convince Didier, who makes a fortune creating one-of-a-kind banquets for rich thrill-seekers, that Gabriel can connect him to a unique venue. So off Gabriel goes to Berlin, where his detested father had a club in the 1990s. Things get even crazier when Gabriel actually does discover the perfect spot for a decadent feast: miles of tunnels and bunkers built for the Third Reich underneath Tempelhof Airport. Even as he enthusiastically participates in the excesses of Didier’s right-hand man Thomas, who’s arranging the bash in the bunkers, Gabriel is developing a guilty conscience about the whole affair. Can it be that our hero is growing up? Well, yes: Gabriel eventually drops his intended suicide, along with several other affectations of youth, though Pierre does feel obliged to provide an over-the-top finale involving fireworks both gastronomic and incendiary.

Considerably more mature than its predecessors, and just as scathingly brilliant with words, but this author is definitely an acquired taste.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-393-08123-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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