A unique, mostly engaging work from a talented writer who will hopefully take another step forward in her next novel.

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THE LESSER BOHEMIANS

The follow-up to A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (2014), the author’s groundbreaking, award-winning debut novel.

It’s 1994 in London, and McBride’s narrator, 18-year-old Eily, arrives from Ireland to begin drama school. Wide-eyed and awed by the city and all its cacophonous activity, she soon meets an older actor in a bar (reading “his Penguin Dostoyevsky”) and embarks on a torrid—and increasingly tumultuous—love affair with him. Though he's 20 years her senior, it’s clear that he doesn’t necessarily have it all figured out; as the narrative progresses, we learn more about his skeleton-filled closet, details that help partially explain his erratic behavior. Most of the novel consists of Eily’s pulsing, fractured thoughts concerning her psychosexual awakening, though her lover’s lengthy disclosure of his past demons throws the narrative somewhat off-balance. Many of the trademarks of McBride’s first novel are present here—intense first-person interiority (details about the narrator’s surroundings are largely absent; for the majority of the book, readers are inside the occasionally claustrophobic confines of Eily’s head); halting, Joycean sentence construction; passionate, urgent descriptions of conflicting emotions—and fans should enjoy this one. However, it’s not likely to win the author many new readers. While A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing masterfully captured the narrator’s mental and emotional states across a range of ages, Eily remains stagnant in her obsessive pursuit of her addictive new love, and the novel runs about 50 pages too long. Still, the author is a confident stylist and produces enough dazzling sentences to keep the pages turning—e.g., describing a scene in which Eily and others snort cocaine, McBride writes, “ponytails like tidal waves slap tabletops and nostrils butterfly.”

A unique, mostly engaging work from a talented writer who will hopefully take another step forward in her next novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 9781101903483

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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