An astonishingly powerful collection worth multiple readings.

THE SOUVENIR MUSEUM

STORIES

After the multigenerational, somewhat whimsical sweep of Bowlaway (2019), McCracken switches gears and proves her mastery of short fiction with these 12 tightly structured, searingly realistic stories.

Four linked stories about a couple named Jack and Sadie are interspersed throughout and form the book’s unifying spine. The opener, “The Irish Wedding,” refers to Jack’s sister’s nuptials, where Jewish American Sadie meets Jack’s British family for the first time. Intimations of the fault lines in their relationship are revealed along with hints that it may last despite them. Enduring love—along with the urge to resist it—is this volume’s common theme, whether in relationships between parents and children, lovers, ex-lovers, friends, and even in-laws. In “Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark,” a few seconds of panic cause a middle-aged gay man to drop his wry surface detachment and acknowledge his commitment toward his more emotive partner and their child. While in Denmark ostensibly to visit Legoland with her 10-year-old son, the divorced bookkeeper of the title story juggles her complicated feelings for the boy with her dead father’s final request to find her long-lost former boyfriend and give him a bequest. "A Walk-Through the Human Heart" illuminates the vein of cruelty that sometimes runs through parental love, making it all the more powerful, as a mother desperately searches vintage shops for the Baby Alive doll she refused to buy her grown, now-pregnant daughter as an 8-year-old. “Birdsong From the Radio,” about a stay-at-home suburban mother whose love grows destructive, shows the risk of caring too much. McCracken’s stories are often heartbreaking, but those about Jack and Sadie are particularly incisive, showing all the hidden crevices of a long-term relationship. Over the course of the book, both characters are pulled between the urges to disguise and reveal themselves, to cling and to run. By the last story, when they marry 20 years after they met, they still harbor resentments and deep disagreements. But what longtime couple doesn’t?

An astonishingly powerful collection worth multiple readings.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297128-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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THE PRINCE OF TIDES

A NOVEL

A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

THE MAKING OF ANOTHER MAJOR MOTION PICTURE MASTERPIECE

A fictional account of the agony and ecstasy of making a movie, from someone who’d know.

For his sprightly debut novel, actor/writer/national treasure Hanks—author of the story collection Uncommon Type, 2017—imagines the making of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, a mashup of Marvel-esque superhero fare, war story, and artsy melodrama. The movie’s concept seems like an unworkable, even bad idea, which is part of the point—Hanks stresses the notion that successful movies aren’t just a matter of story but the people who make them. So he’s assembled an engrossing cast of characters: Bob Falls, the World War II vet who served as a flamethrower in the Pacific theater and became a PTSD–struck biker; Robby Andersen, the nephew who turned him into alternative-comix antihero Firefall; Bill Johnson, the well-decorated Spielberg-ian director who acquires the Firefall property and writes the script; and the small army of actors, assistants, and technicians charged with shooting the film in the Northern California town of Lone Butte—on time, lest morale collapse and the budget inflate. Hanks ably depicts how easily things derail. The male lead’s ego wrecks the shooting schedule. A stray social media post complicates security. On-set flirtations threaten a marriage. But the novel reflects the sunny stick-to-it-iveness of many of Hanks’ roles, and his central thesis is that every movie’s true hero is anybody who reduces friction. To that end, his most enchanting and best-drawn characters are the director’s assistant, Al Mac-Teer (full name Allicia), and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver with no movie experience but a knack for problem-solving. “Most of the film business is done by meeting folks,” one character says, and Hanks suggests that meeting the right people—and being kind to them—is half the battle of successful moviemaking. Overly romantic? Consider the source. Regardless, it’s a well-turned tale of a Hollywood (maybe) success. (Sikoryak illustrates some comic-book pages related to the Firefall backstory and film.)

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780525655596

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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