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OVAL

Witty and alarming, a satire with (unexpected) heart.

Deeply weird and unsettlingly hilarious, Wilk’s dystopian debut pushes the grim absurdities of the present just a little bit further, into a near future that’s too plausible for comfort.

Anja and her boyfriend, Louis, live together, inconveniently but rent-free, on the side of an (artificial) mountain in an experimental zero-waste eco-colony—a welcome escape from Berlin’s skyrocketing rents. And yes, their house doesn’t really work, exactly—though it monitors them constantly, it is in a perpetual state of decay—and yes, it is a project of Finster, the all-knowing corporation where Anja works as a lab scientist. Or she did, until her division is suddenly shut down and she’s promoted to “Laboratory Knowledge Management Consultant,” where she’ll “do nothing for more money.” (“That’s how companies run,” her mentor/ex-lover advises, brightly.) But when Louis, an American “artist-consultant” with a prestigious NGO gig, where it is his job to produce exactly nothing with explicit applications—“his creativity,” Wilk explains, “was both the means and the end”—returns from his mother’s funeral, he’s changed somehow, in ways that Anja cannot pinpoint. Instead of grieving, as she imagines grief to be, he immerses himself in a new and secret creative project: a drug called Oval that gets people high on generosity. “Generosity is already in the brain, just waiting to be unlocked,” Louis tells her. “It takes the tiniest change to make giving feel better than taking.” It could be the solution to inequality. After all, he says, “Capitalism—it’s in the brain.” With Louis consumed by his project, and the eco-colony all but condemned, Anja—who has developed a mysteriously vicious rash— is left to navigate an increasingly sinister reality. If the novel sounds dangerously on-the-nose, it isn’t thanks to Wilk’s off-kilter humor. But the book’s true surprise is its startling emotional kick: If the circumstances are heightened to extremes, the relationships—with their delicate dynamics—are all too real.

Witty and alarming, a satire with (unexpected) heart.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59376-405-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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