You know the expression “This is not your grandma’s epic novel”? Well, this is your grandma’s epic novel, anodyne but...

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THE WHOLE TOWN'S TALKING

The history of a Midwestern town founded by Swedish immigrants, including both lives and afterlives, from 1889 to 2021.

“Over the years, the mail-order bride business had been fraught with pitfalls and disappointments.” Not this time. The big, ambitious Swede Lordor Nordstrom and the nearsighted little wife who answers his ad fall quickly, madly in love. Lordor goes on to start a family, to incorporate Elmwood Springs, Missouri, and become its mayor, and also to donate a panoramic parcel of land for its community cemetery. And then he dies. “Shortly after the funeral, the strangest thing happened. Lordor Nordstrom woke up.” Turns out, after people die, they remain as spirits in the cemetery, at least for a while; at a certain point the souls disappear from the gossipy spirit kaffeeklatsch for parts to be revealed. As this tale winds through the decades and generations, two communities flourish, one of the living and one of the dead. Flagg (The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, 2013, etc.) does a clever job of tracking her clan of interconnected families through the decades, including a drive-by from Bonnie and Clyde, a visit from Harry Truman, four different wars, the birth and death of downtown, and finally modern plagues including drugs, unemployment, and deaths from texting. There’s even a murder mystery woven in, the untimely and suspicious death of a particularly beloved resident which the spirits are determined to investigate and avenge. Much of the fun of the book happens in the graveyard, with conversations like this: “I went to your funeral and sent you flowers.” “Thank you. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reciprocate.” “My hip doesn’t hurt anymore, but…I’m not happy….I hate that I’m dead, that’s why. I’ve been saving for ten years to be able to make that trip to California, and now I’m not ever going, and the ticket was nonrefundable.”

You know the expression “This is not your grandma’s epic novel”? Well, this is your grandma’s epic novel, anodyne but sweeping in its sweet way, full of home truths and consolation.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6595-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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