The author seems well-read, and he aspires to the highest literary standards, but some of these stories seem more...

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THE PERIPATETIC COFFIN

AND OTHER STORIES

A debut collection of eight stories that run the literary gamut, from seafaring parables to domestic realism, with the quality of the stories varying as well.

The opening, title story relates the adventures of “the first underwater vessel commissioned for combat by the Confederate State of America,” a Civil War submarine “that has failed—spectacularly—almost every meaningful test it has been given...the underwater equivalent of a bicycle strapped to a bomb with the intention of pedaling it four miles through hostile waters to engage an infinitely better equipped enemy….” “The Saint Anna” offers another unlikely seafaring tale about a ship ice-bound in the Arctic during the last gasps of czarist Russian rule, leaving those onboard split over whether to stay with the ship, where they’ve been trapped for a couple of years, or try to walk to wherever on the ice: “Each group is conscious of what abandonment means: they are leaving us to our death and we are letting them walk to theirs.” Like a Beckett fable of nothingness and bleak faith, the story suggests that “[t]here’s no explanation of what’s happening to us except that it’s happening.” The final story, “Dirwhals!,” replaces endless ice with endless sand, and unbearable cold with unbearable heat, in its diary of a man who has fled his family and abandoned his sister to serve on “a slow moving factory, an ungainly vessel that serves as both a hunting ship and a one-stop bio-processing plant,” as if Melville’s Ishmael has found himself sandlocked. Amid stories that inhabit parallel dimensions of history, in a geography of the imagination, many of the rest are contemporary family realism, often involving a boy of the same generation as the author undergoing some sort of rite of passage. In “Camp Winnesaka,” a battle between rival summer camps escalates into rockets and casualties, with a subtext that evokes Weapons of Mass Destruction. The longest story, “John, For Christmas,” is the most melodramatic, as a troubled adult son exposes the strains in his parents’ seemingly strong marriage.

The author seems well-read, and he aspires to the highest literary standards, but some of these stories seem more significant in their inspiration than their execution.

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-220383-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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