A clever tale about a detective’s daunting case from a promising author.

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The Soul Dick: An American Romance

In this debut novel, Mason Burr resembles no other private eye in the much-loved genre; the bad guys he targets turn out to be his clients’ hang-ups.

Burr’s latest case involves Jerry Zobec, a classic schlub. Zobec hires Burr, who claims he can “debug personalities” in 24 hours, because he’s desperate. Zobec hates his job; his girlfriend, Amy McFine, has left him; and he lacks friends. Weltschmerz—the feeling that the world is going to hell and that any good guy is hopelessly beleaguered—is Burr’s diagnosis. Thus begins the detective’s mission to rid Zobec of this feeling or at least show him how to cope with it. Burr and Zobec will commune for 24 hours; they will even eat together—at the Acid Reflux Cafe, where world-weary Louie, the proprietor, dispenses tough love. Zobec harbors resources, however. He is a real motor mouth, but what comes out of that mouth is killingly funny and shows a deep interest in the world, even if that engagement remains negative. His monologues consist of well-informed rants about the health care crisis, the out-of-control gun culture, the Middle East—and many other topics. In short, Zobec hasn’t really given up, though he doesn’t realize it yet. With a deadline looming, Burr faces a formidable task: “What in the hell have you done?” he asks himself, fearing that Zobec might be certifiable. But the investigator soon grasps his client’s potential. Smith exploits an ingenious idea here. For starters, she concocts a wonderful sendup of the detective noir genre (Burr toils in a seedy walk-up, locals call the neighborhood the Crosshairs District, gunfire sometimes breaks out, etc.). In addition, the author has invented some colorful characters. The private eye’s name is a witty homage to Perry Mason and Raymond Burr. Clyde the Psychic, who works in the gumshoe’s building, sometimes appears on “Seer Sucker,” a radio show. A pigeon with attitude named Drake assists Burr. Best of all is Zobec, who is irritating but basically lovable and a useful platform for Smith’s political and social views. And for her jokes: “Can you believe they demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet?” Zobec complains to Burr. “It should go rogue and get the fuck out of the whole solar system. Start someplace new.”

A clever tale about a detective’s daunting case from a promising author.

Pub Date: April 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9858224-4-6

Page Count: 206

Publisher: McLarals

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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