Landis (Normal People Don't Live Like This, 2009), a perceptive writer, has created a kind of scandalous beauty in her tale...

RAINEY ROYAL

In 14 linked stories (one of which won a 2014 O. Henry Prize), Landis shapes a mesmerizing portrait of a teenager in 1970s Greenwich Village.

Rainey Royal’s life is wantonly glamorous, degenerate, sophisticated—a lonely combination for a 14-year-old girl whose mother has run away to an ashram. She lives in the Village with her father, Howard, a renowned jazz musician whose acolytes fill their once-grand town house (chandeliers and Beidermeier chests are periodically sent to Sotheby’s to keep the lights on and the drugs flowing). The acolytes are a nuisance—they rummage through Rainey’s things, use her bed, and the girls sleep with Howard—but it's Gordy, Howard’s best friend and accompanist, who causes Rainey shame and confusion when he sneaks into her room every night to stroke her hair. Howard forces Rainey to take birth control pills, to trim his beard, to make allowances for the stream of strangers, but there are things that strengthen Rainey: her art; her friend Tina, who understands everything; and Saint Catherine of Bologna, a surrogate protector in lieu of a mother. Seemingly on the verge of becoming a victim, Rainey is a predator, too—to the gentler girls at school, to the young men hanging on Howard, and, in the best of the novel’s sections, to a young couple she and Tina follow home and force into their apartment at gunpoint. Once there, they take the kind of revenge only powerless teenage girls can think of. As Rainey gets older, she gets commissions for her art, tapestries (like the novel itself) made from the detritus of a person’s life. Landis takes more risks when Rainey is younger than she does in some of the later stories, which include more of Tina and another girl, Leah, a shift in perspective that makes the novel less intense. 

Landis (Normal People Don't Live Like This, 2009), a perceptive writer, has created a kind of scandalous beauty in her tale of the simultaneously fierce and vulnerable Rainey.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61695-452-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 21

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more