Downs, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, is a writer to watch. His work has a cerebral, surreal...

SPIT BATHS

STORIES

A series of 13 punchy, white-trashy takes on displacement and youthful perplexity.

The first, “Adam’s Curse,” is a mere two pages long, and demonstrates nicely the strange beauty of Downs’s imagination. The 19-year-old college-dropout narrator recounts blandly the decision by his female relatives to live without men—“they simply exhaled the men like sighs from their houses.” The narrator, who lives in the basement of his aunt’s house, observes both sides of the sexual divide, all the while simply aching to hop in the car of the willing Kroger checkout girl and take a ride with her. The narrator of “Snack Cakes,” as in many of the stories, is a high-school boy on the cusp of manhood, trying to navigate the dysfunctional trajectories of various family members—in this case, a grandfather who married six times still can’t quite decide which wife he loves best. In the title story, the boy’s mother has left him for a month in the care of his grandmother, Maw-Maw, in Joelton, Ky., in order to find an apartment and new life for them in Springfield, Mo. The boy, Crawford, isn’t sure what to think: “Every day your mother wakes up and says it’s a new day,” Maw-Maw tells him skeptically. “But the truth is there aren’t any new days.” “Field Trip” fuses a young man’s sexual daydreams into a schoolbus outing, while “Freedom Rides” pursues a soured middle-school trip through civil-rights history. Perhaps the most ambitious and compelling story here is “Ain’t I a King, Too?,” involving the identity crisis of a middle-aged loner fleeing domestic tribulation back in Kentucky in 1935, who arrives in Shreveport, La., only to be mistaken for the recently deceased senator, Huey Long.

Downs, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, is a writer to watch. His work has a cerebral, surreal element that requires a little piecing together.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8203-2846-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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