Overall, great fun, in a sardonic sort of way.

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CHASM

A WEEKEND

A spare gothic jewel from Tanning (Between Lives, 2001), the Illinois-born artist and writer best known for her affiliation with the Surrealist school.

Seven-year-old Destina Meridian is the descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Massachusetts in 1692, and she has a nascent sort of witchiness herself. She lives at Windcote, a ranch in the Arizona desert, with her eccentric father and Nelly, her “governess” (also one of her father’s playmates in his “laboratory” of erotic effects). Raoul Meridian likes having new playmates: hence this weekend’s houseguests—Raoul’s trusty “chameleon,” Ridder; Ralph Vine, a noted public relations man; his date, Maya, an actress on the wane; Chi Chi, a model who needs his magic touch; and finally Nadine, a beautiful (natch) Cajun on the Hollywood scene, with her fiancé Albert, who are sent to separate bedrooms once they arrive. For starters, Raoul convinces Nadine to cut off her long blond hair (one of his fetishes). Albert finds himself wandering through the house, where he encounters young Destina, who shows him her “memory box” filled with objects of surpassing strangeness—“the claws and tails of gila monsters, skins of reptiles, spotted eggs, even single eyes preserved in tiny jars”—and describes the friend in the canyon, probably a lion, who brings them to her. After a rousing dinner party, the main characters follow perilous pathways to their fates. The first four are picked up by a car in the predawn hours and head back to New York. The rest are not so lucky. Albert lures Nadine into the desert in search of the lion, and Raoul is left behind with Nelly. Tanning lived near Sedona in the mid-1940s after her marriage to Max Ernst, and she describes the desert with poetic precision. While her plot wavers at times, she concludes with a series of truly gruesome set pieces and a final moment of grace.

Overall, great fun, in a sardonic sort of way.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-58567-584-9

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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