Like watching someone with multiple-personality disorder have a midlife crisis.

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THE GUM THIEF

A big-box chain store is the setting for depressing existential reflection in the latest from Coupland (JPod, 2006, etc.).

Roger—middle-aged, divorced, a self-described failure—is a clerk at Staples. He keeps a journal, in which he sometimes impersonates his young, Goth coworker Bethany. Bethany finds this journal and, after a brief protest about the creepiness of Roger's identity theft, begins recording her own actual thoughts and responses to Roger's entries in the same notebook. This diary also contains Glove Pond, Roger's novel in progress. Kyle, a character in Glove Pond, is writing a novel about a middle-aged guy who works at a superstore. Coupland has employed postmodern literary methods to excellent effect in the past, but this setup is too cute and claustrophobic even for him. The epistolary novel is nearly as strict in its formal demands as a sestina, and it's about as difficult to execute well. Coupland deserves credit for avoiding some of the grosser sins of the form, like characters with an embarrassingly artificial fondness for exposition or the ability to reconstruct conversations and scenarios with perfect recall. Roger and Bethany write like ordinary people write, but that's not exactly a formula for compelling fiction, particularly in an age when the innermost thoughts of ordinary people are available in abundance—some might say superabundance—to anyone with a dial-up connection. Roger and Bethany are also barely distinguishable, and their obsessions—personal mortality, the end of the world—are the same as those of just about every other voice in the novel (Bethany's mother, Roger's ex-wife and a few others contribute correspondence). These are, of course, universal human concerns, but there's so much uniformity to the way various characters explore these themes that it's difficult to see them as real people with real stories, and not just proxies for an author grappling with his own advancing age.

Like watching someone with multiple-personality disorder have a midlife crisis.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59691-106-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

ALMOST JUST FRIENDS

Piper Manning is determined to sell her family’s property so she can leave her hometown behind, but when her siblings come back with life-changing secrets and her sexy neighbor begins to feel like “The One,” she might have to redo her to-do list.

As children, Piper and her younger siblings, Gavin and Winnie, were sent to live with their grandparents in Wildstone, California, from the Congo after one of Gavin’s friends was killed. Their parents were supposed to meet them later but never made it. Piper wound up being more of a parent than her grandparents, though: “In the end, Piper had done all the raising. It’d taken forever, but now, finally, her brother and sister were off living their own lives.” Piper, the queen of the bullet journal, plans to fix up the family’s lakeside property her grandparents left the three siblings when they died. Selling it will enable her to study to be a physician’s assistant as she’s always wanted. However, just as the goal seems in sight, Gavin and Winnie come home, ostensibly for Piper’s 30th birthday, and then never leave. Turns out, Piper’s brother and sister have recently managed to get into a couple buckets of trouble, and they need some time to reevaluate their options. They aren’t willing to share their problems with Piper, though they’ve been completely open with each other. And Winnie, who’s pregnant, has been very open with Piper’s neighbor Emmitt Reid and his visiting son, Camden, since the baby’s father is Cam’s younger brother, Rowan, who died a few months earlier in a car accident. Everyone has issues to navigate, made more complicated by Gavin and Winnie’s swearing Cam to secrecy just as he and Piper try—and fail—to ignore their attraction to each other. Shalvis keeps the physical and emotional tension high, though the siblings’ refusal to share with Piper becomes tedious and starts to feel childish.

Shalvis’ latest retains her spark and sizzle.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296139-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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