Ruge takes full advantage of the varying viewpoints to display, impressively, the density of family life, but a thematic...

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IN TIMES OF FADING LIGHT

A multifaceted look at four generations of an East German family with roots in the Communist Party; this debut was a commercial and literary success in the German author’s homeland.  

The action moves back and forth over 50 years, beginning in 1952, but the central event, witnessed by six different viewpoint characters, occurs in 1989, shortly before the Berlin Wall comes down. The occasion is the 90th birthday party of Wilhelm, the patriarch, an unrepentant Stalinist and Party bigwig. Family members present include Charlotte, his imperious, mean-spirited wife, and his stepson Kurt, a respected Party historian and timid reformer. Conspicuously absent are Kurt’s Russian wife and his rebellious son Alexander, who that day has fled to the West. Though ideology is a crucial element of the novel, first and foremost come the domestic concerns that affect any family. Thus, the climax of Wilhelm’s party will not be his receiving one more Party honor, nor the news of Alexander’s defection, carefully concealed by Kurt, but the collapse of the old folks’ dining table, inexpertly assembled by Wilhelm, whose powers are failing. And it is typical of the oblique narration that you might even miss the act that ends his life that same day. Mysteries abound. We first meet Wilhelm and Charlotte in Mexico, refugees from Nazism, ending their 12-yearslong exile. Has Wilhelm been a secret agent for the Soviets? The possibility dangles. Why is there just one tiny reference to Charlotte’s first husband, the father of her sons? Those sons were sent to the gulag after Kurt’s veiled criticism of Stalin in a private letter to his brother. Kurt did 10 years; his brother was murdered, circumstances undisclosed. Most important, how did Kurt keep his faith in communism after his ordeal? A case of self-deception? His son Alexander believes “everything is deception.” It’s a grand theme, but it’s left undeveloped.

Ruge takes full advantage of the varying viewpoints to display, impressively, the density of family life, but a thematic cohesion is lacking.

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55597-643-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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