Williams’ small gems are as dense and beautiful as diamonds, compressed from the carbon of daily life.

HOW HIGH? THAT HIGH

STORIES

Williams is a magician of the miniature.

Her 10th book of short fiction features 34 stories, all in the span of 128 pages. But don’t let their diminutive stature fool you: These pieces pack a punch. Brief, elliptical, steeped in longing—or is that lust?—they offer slices of life that rely on interior more than exterior details, which is to say they are small road maps of the soul. Williams sets the stage in “Upper Loop,” which opens the collection. “I am trying to think if there’s any reason for having fun anymore on any level?” she (or her anonymous narrator) wonders. “I know that that’s not the kind of thing people usually talk about.” That pair of sentences might stand as a thesis statement for the entire book. Williams’ characters—if we can call them that; many are rumors of characters, impressions—are aging, lost, and often lonely, trying to come to grips with where they are. “Now her heart gets so much assistance from a pacemaker,” one observes of a neighbor, “that sometimes I think she is unable to die.” And yet, rather than frustrate us, the elusiveness only draws us in. “She’ll Love Me for It” offers a vivid snapshot of a grieving woman before raising this surprising question: “Where is her capacity for being a sly tease? for being playful?” In less than two pages, the story gives us layers, multitudes. Something similar might be said of all the pieces here, which are rigorous in both language and emotion, using nuance and inference to explore the implications, the contradictions, that people rarely share aloud. “On her stovetop, for example,” Williams writes in the magnificent “What Is Given With Pleasure and Received With Admiration?” “an iron pot she owns has been scoured and scooped out even more than she has.”

Williams’ small gems are as dense and beautiful as diamonds, compressed from the carbon of daily life.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-641-29306-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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  • National Book Award Finalist

CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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