Relentlessly depressing but superbly composed story of a tragically lost soul.

FAIR

A homeless man wanders the streets and beaches of Los Angeles in search of purpose in Seaward’s literary debut.

Eyan has no sense of time and can’t remember how long he’s been on the streets or even his age. He guesses 20, but he looks considerably older, primarily because he had his rotten teeth removed. Though initially alone, he eventually reunites with Marc, a friend from school who lives on Skid Row with “the professor,” a man who once taught at the University of Chicago. This leads Eyan to connect with Paul, another, more dangerous former schoolmate. Paul’s a criminal, often surrounded by his minions, who enlists Eyan as his drug mule since Eyan walks everywhere and, like other homeless in LA, is effectively “invisible.” Paul’s gang is likely responsible for the dead bodies that are periodically turning up, a string of homicides that local detectives don’t seem capable of stopping. Meanwhile, Eyan struggles with thoughts of death and family, and he always carries a notebook that he fills with words he wants to remember. He has sporadic, “shifting” memories, from his mother and his sister’s disappearance during his first and only year of high school to a girl he once knew who committed suicide. It certainly doesn’t help his erratic memories when detectives question Eyan regarding some of the murder victims and ask about the contents of his notebook. Ultimately, Eyan makes a decision that will forever change his life as well as others’.

With few moments or recollections of happiness, Eyan is the quintessential tortured soul. He’s entirely sympathetic and endearing and only grows more so as readers get to know him. Though the story plants itself in dark territory, it’s not devoid of hope; Eyan’s notebook is an especially potent indicator that he continually strives to understand those around him. Seaward’s narrative is smoothly nonlinear, lucidly depicting flashbacks and memories. And while Eyan’s perspective isn’t strictly reliable (he’s completely unaware of how much time passes), supporting characters are distinctive. Marc in particular shows a kindness toward the protagonist that speaks volumes; he’s one of the few people who doesn’t mock Eyan. The author writes in a plain prose steeped in metaphor. For example, Paul’s minions are “eyeless” because they perpetually don mirrored sunglasses that not only quash their identities, but constantly remind Eyan of his own identity when seeing his reflection. Despite parallels between the City of Angels and passages of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which the professor reads to Eyan, Seaward’s tale is sublimely understated. He, for one, often portrays LA as a realistically grim rather than overtly hellish landscape: “Eyan wanders up and down the boardless boardwalk until the crowds thin to the point of disappearing. It is late at night. He finds his special place. The tiny spot he can crawl into, pull his knees to his chin and place a thumb in a toothless mouth.”

Relentlessly depressing but superbly composed story of a tragically lost soul. (about the illustrations; acknowledgements; about the author)

Pub Date: June 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-88984-431-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Porcupine's Quill

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2020

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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