Gaines competently reveals his central character's motivations, but that might not be enough to make readers care about the...

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THE TRAGEDY OF BRADY SIMS

A young reporter on assignment learns the history of a town’s black community.

After graduating from college in California, Louis Guerin has returned to his Louisiana hometown to work as a reporter for the Bayonne Journal, the weekly newspaper. As the story opens, a man named Brady Sims shoots his own son, who has just been convicted of two crimes, in front of the judge, jury, and courthouse bystanders, including Louis, who's covering the case. Assigned to write "a human interest story" on Brady, Louis spends a day at the town barbershop and learns that his subject was the disciplinarian for the quarter, the town’s black section, whipping children (mostly boys) who erred in an effort to keep them from the worse fate of ending up in Angola, the infamous state prison. As the barbers, customers, and shop loiterers talk, they offer a fuller and occasionally sympathetic picture of Brady while simultaneously showing how World War II, technology, and the Great Migration caused strife for those living in the quarter. Those larger themes, though central to the story, are expressed perhaps at the expense of a deeper portrayal of Brady. Though Mapes, the town sheriff and one of Brady's only friends, attempts to provide nuance to the character of a reputedly violent man, his testimony does not quite help generate adequate sympathy for Brady. In his first novel in more than 20 years, National Book Critics Circle Award winner Gaines (Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays, 2005, etc.) returns to the themes (crime, punishment, and compassion) and milieu (the rural South) for which he is best known, telling a simple yet provocative tale that reverberates from its Southern core, with a keen ear for the way men talk when they are among each other. Though readers may come to understand Brady’s motivations for killing his son in this expertly rendered story, they may do so with varying levels of sympathy for him.

Gaines competently reveals his central character's motivations, but that might not be enough to make readers care about the man's fate.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-43446-7

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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