Stories that test the boundaries of the fictional imagination.

FARTHEST SOUTH & OTHER STORIES

Fairy tales and bedtime stories for those dark nights of the soul.

The two stories bookending Rutherford's second collection find a father named Soren drawing from his imagination to ease his young sons toward sleep. Both stories become monstrously supernatural, pitting young boys against sea creatures who threaten to devour their souls. In "The Diver," the final story, Soren fears that his sons realize his tale has “gone off the rails” as a giant squid who flooded the hometown of two abandoned brothers battles a disembodied diver. And, yes, if this were a fable, it has likely lost its point, its moral. But it’s indicative of Soren's mental state, as he fears that his life, his marriage, his family, and his home are all going off the rails. The elements of plot in these stories are often strange and scary—two foxes kidnap a human child to raise as their own, a mother succumbs to spiritual illness, a baby’s illness is nightmarishly investigated at an impersonal hospital—and the contexts throughout are young families, young marriages, young children, and the perception of overwhelming threat facing them all. The stories they weave, which incorporate elements of memories, dreams, fears, and fables, don’t necessarily provide comfort or even much in the way of resolution. They don’t have a lesson except that people tell stories to seek order amid chaos, hope amid impending doom, a reason to keep going. The farthest-flung adventure is the title story, which finds a Norse grandfather, a talking penguin, and 25 children on an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. “Enchantment, wonder...uncharted, limitless white,” marvels the penguin. There are hints that the whole story is unfolding within the grandfather’s mind or that the narrator is imagining what his grandfather is experiencing as he lies comatose for two months in the hospital. Yet each of these stories has that same white canvas, uncharted, to be filled.

Stories that test the boundaries of the fictional imagination.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64605-047-5

Page Count: 184

Publisher: A Strange Object

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

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APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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