A strong story populated by a host of memorable characters—smart, satisfying fiction, one of the author’s best in years.

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UNFINISHED DESIRES

After a couple of subpar efforts, Godwin (Queen of the Underworld, 2006, etc.) is back in top form with a gripping tale of jealousies and power struggles at a Catholic girls’ school.

In the year 2001, elderly Mother Suzanne Ravenel tape-records her memories of her 50 years at Mount Saint Gabriel’s in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Her worst memories are of the dreadful school year 1951-52, when a turbulent ninth grader provoked an outburst that resulted in the headmistress being sent on a leave of absence. Mother Ravenel’s own student years at Mount Saint Gabriel’s in the 1930s also figure in the story, as does her fraught friendship with Antonia Tilden. This being the South, the separate generations are connected by blood and grievances. Antonia’s orphaned niece Chloe is in that 1951-52 ninth-grade class, and she becomes best friends with manipulative, needy Tildy Stratton, daughter of Antonia’s embittered twin Cordelia, who’s convinced that Suzanne Ravenel’s pushiness led to Antonia abandoning her true vocation as a nun. Cordelia’s animosity and malice drive the plot, as Tildy takes up her mother’s vendetta against the admittedly bossy, self-righteous Mother Ravenel. Chloe’s kind Uncle Henry is the only male character of any significance; the emphasis is on female friendships, especially the adolescent variety, with its gusts of hormonal emotions and intricate maneuvers for position. Bad mothers get a good deal of attention as well (there are quite a few of them), and Godwin elicits our understanding for all her characters without letting them off the hook for bad behavior. She skillfully unfolds fascinatingly tangled motives as she keeps the action bustling along. Moving final scenes show an old nun realizing that mixed motives matter less than a lifetime of service, and two old friends reconnecting after 55 years, matured and seasoned by what they’ve endured, but not so very different from what they were at 14.

A strong story populated by a host of memorable characters—smart, satisfying fiction, one of the author’s best in years.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-345-48320-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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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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