A charitable and bleakly funny portrait of the American dream gone off the rails.

THIS IS JUST EXACTLY LIKE YOU

A husband loses his way and tries to find his life’s meaning in the wreckage.

Writing teacher Perry (English/Elon Univ.) makes good on his short stories, which appear in publications like New Stories from the South, with a striking debut novel about a man whose responsibilities haven’t yet overcome his ambitions. The narrative posits itself as being about an everyman hero, Jack Lang, the reluctant owner of a North Carolina mulching business and caring father to his six-year-old autistic son, Hendrick. Except that Jack is far from being every man, as he struggles to take in the bewildering creature his child has become and still believes that the impossible is doable. In fact, Jack’s diversions—buying a second house the family doesn’t need, for example—have driven his wife, Bethany, to move in with his best friend, Terry Canavan. “No good answer, like most other things,” Perry writes. “He goes ahead with projects without planning them all the way through first. It makes her crazy. He knows this, does it anyway. Gets excited.” Out of these tales of ordinary madness, Perry constructs a riveting familial drama. Jack is oddly detached emotionally, failing to strike out at his wife’s infidelity other than making a mean-spirited drive through Terry’s yard, for which he later apologizes. But the troubled trio soon becomes an even more dysfunctional quartet when Terry’s estranged girlfriend Rena moves in with Jack, initiating a bizarrely civil case of partner swapping. “But we at least have to hate each other more if we’re going to keep acting like this,” Beth professes. “We at least have to act like regular lunatics.” The domestic drama is far from the book’s sole attraction, as Perry breathes glorious life into Hen, whose repetitive jabber—mimicking not only TV advertisements but also his parents’ appalling banter—gives the novel a unique rhythm of its own.

A charitable and bleakly funny portrait of the American dream gone off the rails.

Pub Date: April 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02154-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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