The escapes, captures and riots are not much of a distraction from John’s dismaying passivity, which dooms the whole project.

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MORTARVILLE

For a human created by scientists, a childhood trapped underground is followed by an equally grim adulthood aboveground in this bleak fantasy, the author’s second novel (Cloud 8, 2003).

The two male scientists are murdered by a God-fearing mob that’s discovered their secret lab, but the embryo, in its aquarium tank, is rescued by government operatives. After birth he is studied by other scientists; his few happy moments come in a cage shared by Abigail, a gorilla who provides unconditional motherly love. At age five he’s transferred to an underground cell, one of a network that houses other scientifically conceived boys, and given a name, John Smith, and a roommate, Sterling. They will spend the next ten years underground, guarded by Men in White, as they receive a basic education and conditioning for life in society. John will be treated to some interactive television, allowing him to eat a traditional breakfast with a model Mom and Pop. But where are the girls? Sterling, more spirited than John, intends to find out. With John’s help they break out twice, but are recaptured. The third breakout is a full-fledged revolt; they emerge aboveground, where soldiers escort them to a small house. In due course John is driven to Mortarville, a ravaged industrial town. He becomes a security guard, is promoted to security director of a downtown mall and spends his days writing reports underground (again), part of “the world’s endless army of middle management hacks.” John finds a small ray of light in his neighbor, the ethereal Dora, but their relationship is not developed, and the clumsy ending (mayhem at the mall) offers no resolution. Bailie’s point in all this is that John’s mandatory childhood incarceration was an appropriate rehearsal for the prisons of choice of regular folks; his exotic conception was just a frill. It’s not exactly a dystopian vision.

The escapes, captures and riots are not much of a distraction from John’s dismaying passivity, which dooms the whole project.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-9788431-1-3

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Ig Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2007

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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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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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