A very smart novel that recognizes the limits of intelligence and the distortions of memory.

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THE APARTMENT

A formally and thematically ambitious debut novel that aims very high and rarely falls short.

In his well-received memoir (A Preparation for Death, 2010), the author writes of his frustrations with a series of previous novels that were never published. Maybe those were learning experiences, for this shows both a mastery of literary technique and a refusal to see such technique as an end in itself, as it engages the world on a number of levels—political, moral, aesthetic (its ruminations on art are where it goes a little over the top), as well as meditations on place, time and memory. Though all these concerns make the novel sound overstuffed, the elliptical concision and narrative momentum keep the prose from ever becoming polemic. Following the lead of James Joyce, Don DeLillo and others, the novel takes place over the course of a single day in the life of its protagonist as he makes his way across an unnamed European city in search of the titular apartment. Christmas approaches, but the 41-year-old American seems immune to the holiday spirit and to much in the way of human warmth, as he obliquely recounts the life of dislocation that has brought him to this place that might serve as a final destination but never home. Not that he ever felt at home in his native country—“I was born to hate the place I come from”—and certainly not in his tours of Iraq, in the military and then as a civilian mercenary, selling intelligence for blood money. A woman he has recently met serves as his guide through her city and helps him find the apartment, though the depth of their relationship appears unclear to one or both of them. Not nearly as clear as the view as he stares into the abyss: “I experienced a sensation of falling into nothingness. It seemed not at all like a spontaneous sensation but like a truth that had come a very long way, looking for me, knowing all I would think before I thought it, and shot me out of the sky.”

A very smart novel that recognizes the limits of intelligence and the distortions of memory.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7478-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Offill is good company for the end of the world.

WEATHER

An ever growing list of worries, from a brother with drug problems to a climate change apocalypse, dances through the lively mind of a university librarian.

In its clever and seductive replication of the inner monologue of a woman living in this particular moment in history, Offill’s (Dept. of Speculation, 2014, etc.) third novel might be thought of as a more laconic cousin of Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport. Here, the mind we’re embedded in is that of a librarian named Lizzie—an entertaining vantage point despite her concerns big and small. There’s the lady with the bullhorn who won’t let her walk her sensitive young son into his school building. Her brother, who has finally gotten off drugs and has a new girlfriend but still requires her constant, almost hourly, support. Her mentor, Sylvia, a national expert on climate change, who is fed up with her fans and wants Lizzie to take over answering her mail. (“These people long for immortality, but can’t wait ten minutes for a cup of coffee,” says Sylvia.) “Malodorous,” “Defacing,” “Combative,” “Humming,” “Lonely”: These are just a few of the categories in a pamphlet called Dealing With Problem Patrons that Lizzie's been given at work, Also, her knee hurts, and she’s spending a fortune on car service because she fears she's Mr. Jimmy’s only customer. Then there are the complex mixed messages of a cable show she can't stop watching: Extreme Shopper. Her husband, Ben, a video game designer and a very kind man, is getting a bit exasperated. As the new president is elected and the climate change questions pour in and the doomsday scenarios pile up, Lizzie tries to hold it together. The tension between mundane daily concerns and looming apocalypse, the "weather" of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill's brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor.

Offill is good company for the end of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-35110-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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