Though with plenty of good moments, this ranks as lesser work by an author who’s done much better.

READ REVIEW

A CLUE TO THE EXIT

If you can see the end coming from a long way off, do you rush toward it or head in the opposite direction? Therein lies a question to be wrestled with—and so St. Aubyn (On the Edge, 2014, etc.) does.

Charlie Fairburn, the screenwriter of such immortal flicks as Aliens with a Human Heart (“perhaps you were one of the fifty-three million people who paid to see it”), has six months to live. Does he head out to sail around the world, climb great peaks, see the most important museums in the most beautiful cities? Nope. Now that he’s put aside the possibility of killing himself for a minute or two, Charlie nurses ambitions that are somewhat less involved: he decides he’s going to write the novel he dreamed about when he was young, explore the ideas that captivated him in college. Never mind that his agent will go ballistic: there are ways of working around Arnie Cornfield, whose name and manner are clichés as much as are his words, even if St. Aubyn doesn’t quite have American English, and especially Hollywood American English, down. (“The audience have gotta leave the movie with a smile on their faces,” he writes, Britishly.) Prozac and potage in tummy, Charlie sets to work, penning a yarn that reeks of Waiting for Godot and undergraduate courses in the nature of consciousness and suchlike things: “She hardly recognized the argumentative intellectual she had driven to psychedelic insanity in the Utah desert five years ago, the man who declared the ‘scandal’ of pure Being, and ‘announced the death of Nature.’ ” Charlie’s slim novel is and will always be an acquired taste, but it makes a nice distraction while he’s waiting for the end. But did someone say deus ex machina? St. Aubyn turns in a curious confection, well-crafted as always but rather insubstantial for all its philosophical explorations; it’s certainly more cheerful than his Melrose novels (At Last, 2012, etc.), but even though it’s still brimming with mordant humor and venom (and, for that matter, plenty of inside jokes to please faithful readers), it seems a detour from the weightier, psychologically richer stuff of old.

Though with plenty of good moments, this ranks as lesser work by an author who’s done much better.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-04603-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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