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WEIRD BLACK GIRLS

Sharp, poignant, funny, and, above all, filled with the joy of invention—a must-read.

Seven long short stories that call into being worlds as fantastic as they are real.

As presaged by the title, the stories in Cotman’s fourth collection are splendidly strange. In “Weird Black Girls,” the narrator takes his ex-girlfriend on a trip to Boston, a tourist attraction ever since “the Rupture” in 1702 when “the settlement...rose like a finger pointing skyward to fix at a 45-degree angle above the earth,” an event supposedly caused by a Black witch named Annalee who may still roam Cambridge’s uncanny, and racist, streets. In “Things I Never Learned in Caitlin Clarke’s Intro to Acting Class,” the narrator takes a new lover, Leroy, only to discover that whenever they touch he’s transported back in time to inhabit Leroy’s body as he attends an acting class led by the real-life star of Dragonslayer. In “Tournament Arc,” two life-long best friends forced out of their jobs by Covid-19 and culture wars capitalize on their shared obsession for all things anime to run a LARP tournament that attracts a spectacular cast of combatants, most notably a sentient suit of “armor from precolonial Benin.” The stories are gleefully genre-busting in the style of Rion Amilcar Scott or Karen Joy Fowler, yet their invention is always grounded in the tangible struggles the characters face as they define their gender identities, their racial allegiances, and their right to be ordinary in a world that is realistically cruel. In the harrowing “Triggered,” for example, a story that’s markedly realist for this fabulist collection, the toxic relationship between two white Bay Area Occupy–affiliated activists unravels to reveal the depths of the destruction their performative allyship wreaks on the Black and brown communities they themselves have occupied. A reader, acclimated to the exuberant oddity that characterizes the majority of the stories, may find themselves waiting for the surrealist shoe to drop. When it does not and the story grinds to the habitual tragedy of its conclusion, the result is an epiphany about our shared American reality that is all the more startling for its brutal familiarity.

Sharp, poignant, funny, and, above all, filled with the joy of invention—a must-read.

Pub Date: April 16, 2024

ISBN: 9781668018859

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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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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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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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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