A sometimes overly detailed story of intrigue, pain and strength.

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Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown

A tragic event brings a family together in Kaulkin’s novel.

On the day of her “un-Super Bowl” party, Brenda Corrigan takes a trip to the farmers market to pick up a few final things. Walking a cheery trail in scenic Oak Grove, Calif., Brenda crosses the footbridge to a trail usually populated by dog lovers, bicyclists and walkers. On this Super Bowl Sunday, however, she’s alone except for one homeless man. Flashing the man a courteous smile, Brenda doesn’t realize she’s in danger until it’s too late. The man attacks her, drags her into nearby bushes and brutally rapes her after smashing her in the mouth with a rock. Left for dead, Brenda is discovered after three men are caught burglarizing her condo and confess to where they found her keys and wallet. As Brenda lies unresponsive in the hospital, her adult children, Lynn and Jeff, and dearest friends gather around her hospital bed. While she deals with the trauma of her attack, Brenda’s son and daughter come to realize that there’s much more to their mother than they knew. In her debut novel, Kaulkin tells a taut story. The prose, however, dwells on action rather than emotion, and the reader rarely gets a glimpse inside Brenda’s mind. Instead, all is revealed through diary entries and past memories. Even her current thoughts about her recuperation feel remote. While the story is well-conceived, the attempt to provide an intriguing back story for Brenda featuring secret affairs, covert operations and foreign travel may give pause; the concept seems plausible, but the execution feels somewhat forced. Superfluous details sometimes overwhelm the plot, but Kaulkin neatly reveals the complex, surprising layers in her characters. Through Brenda’s journals and recuperation, Lynn gains a new take on the person she previously saw merely as a caregiver.

A sometimes overly detailed story of intrigue, pain and strength. 

Pub Date: April 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1481897181

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2013

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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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