A cleverly plotted and deeply moving work that will likely have readers recommending it to their friends.

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CHILDREN OF THE WIND

In Sundt’s (My Helsingfors: Andreas Larsson Bengstrom, 2014) Depression-era story, an adult orphan takes care of a younger one, and together, they take a trip to delve into their pasts.

Eleven-year-old John Culbertson’s father dies of a heart attack on their bleak farm in southern Illinois. Traumatized, the boy, who’s known as “Cully,” blindly and aimlessly hits the road. Along the way, Gunnar Anderson, known to all simply as “Doc,” stops his car and convinces the lad to come with him. Before long, they’re acting like father and son. Doc is a lonely widower, and Cully fills a void in his heart. Thirty years ago, when he was a child, Doc was sent west on an “orphan train”—part of a movement that aimed to relocate orphans in Eastern cities to Midwestern foster homes—and by hard work, he eventually got a college education and became a veterinarian. He has virtually no memory of his life before he was put on the train. Cully’s mother, Anna, left her husband and son and returned to her Connecticut hometown years ago. Now, she writes a long letter to both of them—not knowing that her husband’s dead. It contains a mysterious reference to the long-ago disappearance of her youngest brother, Augustus Jared. Doc sees Cully’s photo of Anna and begins to fall in love with her—but for various reasons, he soon begins to suspect that he might, in fact, be her long-lost brother. Fatefully, he says to Cully, “I think we need to go find your mother.” They finally track her down, and, of course, the boy is overjoyed at the reunion; meanwhile, Doc wrestles with his feelings while trying to discover the truth about his past.  Sundt is a very impressive writer, and he doesn’t miss a step as he evokes the story’s time and place with vivid descriptions. Doc, in particular, is a wonderful creation who’s worth the price of admission all by himself; his care for Cully is simple and strong, and he also shows deep sensitivity. The book is structured as the two complementary diaries of Doc and Cully, and as a result, the text approaches metafiction at times, as when Doc writes, “There are things that happen beyond all intention and planning….If it were in a book, the reader would scoff at it.” Often, Doc’s and Cully’s entries will observe the same turn of events from their very different perspectives—Doc with maturity, and Cully with precocity. The narrative is bookended by commentaries by Augustus Strong II, Cully’s son, writing in the present day. It’s revealed that Augustus is a veterinarian—just like Doc was. The final mystery involves the Strong family graveyard, but Sundt has Augustus Strong II provide the envoi: “Some mysteries are not meant to be solved.” That said, the climax turns out to be a real shocker, leaving readers to ponder a lack of resolution.

A cleverly plotted and deeply moving work that will likely have readers recommending it to their friends.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4797-4197-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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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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