Evocative exploration of how deception can destroy—or redeem—a family.



An eccentric Spanish family retreats to their beach house outside Barcelona to make final arrangements for the matriarch presumed dead after a boat accident in Guatemala.

“Me, Isabel, dead? Not a chance,” declares the feisty, clear-eyed, 69-year-old on page one. An influential anthropologist specializing in the funeral rites of indigenous people, she was on a solo trip to a remote river in Central America when a European nurse she met in passing was killed in a river accident. The woman’s disfigured body was misidentified as that of Isabel, who for a number of reasons decides to stay out of sight for a little while, writing down her thoughts in a journal. Her distraught family, meanwhile, grieves for her while facing their own various issues as they make plans to dispose of “Isabel’s” ashes near the ruggedly beautiful town of Malespina. Her husband, Julio, suffers from a Parkinson’s-like ailment and needs constant care. Eldest son Alberto is a successful, four-times divorced lawyer stressed by financial and personal responsibilities. Middle son Pablo is a gifted composer who never lived up to his early promise. Youngest child Serena, a meteorologist, finds herself pregnant at age 38 by a 24-year-old colleague. Serena’s written account forms a counterpart to her mother’s diary, and the two texts slowly knit together a convoluted tale of origins beginning with the legend of Julio’s father, Simón, a shipwreck survivor who may never have existed. Layer after layer of family lore are peeled away in the competing narratives, interspersed with tangential tales from Isabel’s work with native tribes and Serena’s research on maritime weather patterns. It all makes for an original, though sometimes confusing, take on the nature of storytelling, truth and familial bonds. An award-winning release in de Hériz’s native Spain, his American debut is blessed with fully fashioned characters who manage to be satisfyingly exasperating and complex.

Evocative exploration of how deception can destroy—or redeem—a family.

Pub Date: April 17, 2007

ISBN: 0-385-51794-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...


Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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