Lumpish fiction debut by the owner of a D.C. chocolate shop detailing the lives of a middle-aged couple who meet via a suicide prevention hotline and continue to struggle against a nagging desire to end it all. Jo’s woes began when her father committed suicide when Jo was only six and her mother wrapped herself in an impenetrable blanket of denial. Having cared for her mother until her death from cancer, then having moved into the basement of her married sister’s home, Jo began the long march to age 40 as a self-loathing “old troll.” That is, until she called the Hotline Heaven suicide prevention number and found Monk on the other phone. A divorced former stock-car racer still grieving over the death of his young son, Monk turns out to have a knack for relieving Jo’s pain. The two arrange a meeting, fall in love at first sight, marry, and eventually settle down in tiny Canterbury, Pennsylvania. “Happily ever after” proves not to be a phrase in their emotional vocabularies, however: Even as Monk is promoted twice by his employer, a home improvement chain called Home-Mart, and even as Jo finds a satisfying creative outlet as baker at The Cake & Coffee, depression stalks them both. When Monk is fired from his job, he runs his car into a ditch; his near-death experience convinces him there’s no life after death and therefore no reason for hope in this one. When The Cake & Coffee is singled out for a feature article in Hearthstone, the pressure on Jo to create a cake good enough to grace the magazine’s cover takes the pleasure out of baking for her. Husband and wife suffer through this rough patch, empathetic yet too wounded to help each other. It takes a new job offer and a perfect cake to life their spirits, allowing these two aging lovers to stagger through another year. Park strives for lyricism in depicting the lives of this more-or-less average small-town couple, but too often her prose dissolves into sentimental murk.

Pub Date: July 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-57962-011-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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