This is ultimately a corporate horror story—often claustrophobic to the point of oppressive, but undeniably disturbing.

UNDERGROUND TIME

A prizewinner and bestseller in France, de Vigan (No and Me, 2010, etc.) is a master of the spare (and of despair) in this brief novel about two unhappy Parisians who may or may not be destined to meet.

The novel takes place during a single day, May 20, when a psychic has told widowed mother of three Mathilde that she will meet a man. Although her corporate job has become a nightmare since her supervisor Jacques turned against her months earlier after she mildly disagreed with him in front of others, Mathilde starts the day excited that something new is going to happen. She even laughs with her children, a moment that becomes more poignant in memory as her day falls apart. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Paris, Thibault, who has given up a safe suburban GP practice to be a traveling emergency doctor (his job does not quite translate in the U.S.), starts the day by breaking up with his unloving girlfriend, then makes his medical service calls in a mood that swings between rage and despair. When a woman falls at the metro station Mathilde helps her. Thibault is called but arrives just after Mathilde has left. Late getting to work, Mathilde discovers Jacques has moved her out of her office into a humiliating spot near the men’s room and has stripped her of all of her responsibilities. She and Jacques both know she cannot be fired, but he continues to ratchet up his campaign to make her work life increasingly miserable to the point of unbearable. As Mathilde wanders through the Kafkaesque corporate labyrinth, trying to find an escape from Jacque’s reach, Thibault drives the city streets overwhelmed by an exhausting caseload of patients whose lives have shriveled into hopelessness. Will these two ever meet? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

This is ultimately a corporate horror story—often claustrophobic to the point of oppressive, but undeniably disturbing.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60819-712-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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