Both sides of the race issue get a fair hearing in this well-executed tale.

CROSS BODY LEAD

A psychological novel focuses on issues of race, personal responsibility, and privilege at a California liberal arts college.

College student Evelyn Davis is dealing with a stalker. Trouble is, no seems to know what to do about him. Eddie Pike, an Afghanistan War veteran, is an older White student. He maintains he means Evelyn no harm, but it’s obvious his personal problems exceed the services that the college’s counseling clinic offers. A sophisticated African American woman, Evelyn knows how to navigate both the Black and White worlds, “having been brought up in a well-to-do white neighborhood.” Professor Billie Ochoa teaches a class Eddie and Evelyn share. Billie is enamored of her Cuban heritage and Fidel Castro’s island paradise. As a conscientious educator, she tutors Eddie alone so he can continue with the class while Evelyn stays safe. But the unwanted intrusions mount, from Eddie’s following Evelyn to his sneaking into her apartment. Campus police tiptoe around the problem because they say they can’t prove Eddie committed a crime. Evelyn is leery of the authorities, and soon the issues of race and administrative action boil over. Billie is exasperated, venting to a college official: “A young African-American woman who’s being stalked? Doesn’t that distress you? Just a bit? That it’s the white men you’re always protecting?” The administration reaches out to Eddie, but when a restraining order is issued, word gets out that he is a stalker, and he becomes the object of student protests. In this engaging tale, Axelroth is fair to all the characters and allows Evelyn and others to see both sides of the complicated race issue. At times, Evelyn feels discomfort at being “a stand-in for whatever Black people thought—about police shooting unarmed Black men, and looting in Black neighborhoods, and isn’t affirmative action just reverse discrimination?” Personal responsibility becomes an issue when Billie lies and tells the authorities Eddie threatened Evelyn and when an administration member attempts to use the tumultuous campus situation to benefit her own agenda. This is set against secondary themes of the Cuban revolution, communism, and how sometimes the ends justify the means, which all get a rousing pro and con analysis in an academic hothouse of impassioned young thinkers.

Both sides of the race issue get a fair hearing in this well-executed tale.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-79481-618-3

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Lulu.com

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A superficially gripping but psychologically unconvincing thriller.

SLEEPLESS

In present-day Germany, a woman burdened with the darkest of secrets from her brutal childhood becomes an unwitting participant in a fatal game of murder and deceit.

“You become normal by doing normal things,” Nadja Kulka’s therapist tells her, and for the most part the technique has worked. Nadja has a good job in the office of one of Berlin’s most successful lawyers and a secure if barren personal life. “I’m the woman who sits at the open window of her kitchen when she sees that her neighbour has friends over again on a Saturday night,” she explains. Social gatherings cause Nadja acute anxiety, and when the novel opens, she is in the grip of a panic attack that causes her to faint at a gas station and then to flee back onto the motorway, fearing that onlookers may have called the police. But why? And why is she wearing a blond wig? In this feverish, relentlessly tense novel, the answers to those and many other questions lie tangentially in Nadja’s past—to which the narrative cyclically returns—but more immediately in a sudden act of violence into which she is cruelly drawn. As dastardly events unfold, we are kept on edge not only by the author’s initially skillful evocation of Nadja’s troubled consciousness, but also by the novel’s restless shuttling between past and present. The eventual cinching together of near and distant events is clumsily handled, however, and the denouement utterly overwrought. A parallel plot involves the yearnings of a young woman who longs to escape her hometown backwater, embarks on an affair with a married visitor to her family’s inn, and pays a terrible price for her longings. Rather than enriching the novel, however, this drama, though potentially engrossing, seems more like a distraction.

A superficially gripping but psychologically unconvincing thriller.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-82479-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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