A funny, moving, finely wrought remembrance of a lost Middle America.

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LETTERS TO JUD

STORIES OF ANOTHER LIFE

A World War II-era small town sparkles to life in this luminous memoir.

Half a century after the death of his father Jud, manager of the railroad depot in the village of Republic, Mo., the author revisits his boyhood world in these epistolary recollections. In part, they are a subtle appreciation of the virtues that a son doesn’t fully see in his father until he grows older himself—of Jud’s hard work and skillfulness, his shrewd wisdom and his steady love for his family. But through them Alderman also sketches an enchanting portrait of the close-knit town and the lonesome farmsteads of the Missouri Ozarks surrounding it, as seen through the eyes of a boy growing to manhood. There are youthful pranks and raucous baptisms that nearly drown their beneficiaries. There are beguiling neighborhood characters: a homeless man who grows succulent vegetables, a local “witch” who turns stones into cupcakes for kids, and a glamorous eighth-grader who smokes, kills snakes and steals honey from wild hives. There are darker threads, including a man who walks into town one day waving a gun and threatening to shoot someone. There’s the dread of bad news from the front and the excitement of the war mobilization as transports carrying troops and tanks come bustling through. (The author’s re-creations of the culture and technology of trains—the sleek aerodynamic locomotives, the ritual of handing up messages for the crew on radio-less expresses to snatch as they hurtle past—are an engrossing reminder of the vanished romance of railroading.) Alderman’s lyrical prose infuses these vignettes with evocative details—“I couldn’t think of anything that smelled better than the fragrance of a cigarette freshly lit by a kitchen match in the cab of a workman’s truck”—and a quiet humor. When he returns to finds Jud’s depot demolished, we’re grateful that his vivid memories endure.

A funny, moving, finely wrought remembrance of a lost Middle America.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1440181375

Page Count: 204

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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