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PONYBOY

Technically ambitious, often trying, and ultimately rewarding.

A troubled protagonist deals with addiction and his own becoming in this expressive bildungsroman.

This novel in four parts begins in a Paris bathroom, where the titular protagonist is getting a haircut from his best friend and flinching at the sight of his own breasts. Ponyboy and Toni “grew up and over and out of Iowa, together,” discovering their true genders alongside each other. With Toni, Ponyboy feels like himself—or at least something close to the self he longs to be. But to his girlfriend, Baby—a lesbian—his masculinity is a problem that they may not be able to resolve. Everyone involved in this ménage drinks a lot of alcohol and snorts a lot of coke, and for Ponyboy, substance abuse is a conscious attempt to escape the difficulty of being himself. His use reaches a crisis point in Berlin—where the second part of the book is set—which sends him into recovery and back to his family. The narrative is interspersed with scenes from his Midwestern youth and oddments like a letter to Sigmund Freud’s patient Dora and imagined conversations with Kathy Acker. During the first parts of the novel, Duncan deploys an arduously metaphorical style that veers from the sublime to the cartoonish. “I lose my body exceptionally” is a gorgeously economical way to describe the way Ponyboy feels liberated from his physical reality while wasted. On the other hand, “My cock-intelligence smolders in my furrowed brow” is a bit hard to take. “Back arched aching in solar want. My teeth pull on the meat of an olive.” This is an excerpt from a text sent to Baby. A very long text. An unsent email message to writer and philosopher Paul Preciado is similarly overwrought. But, as Ponyboy moves toward and through rehab, Duncan chooses a plain style that allows his protagonist to emerge as real and true—and alive.

Technically ambitious, often trying, and ultimately rewarding.

Pub Date: June 13, 2023

ISBN: 9781324051220

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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