While its pacing is uneven, Nesser’s novel gains in power as it raises difficult questions about memory and morality.

THE SUMMER OF KIM NOVAK

Nesser’s novel follows its young narrator through a series of traumatic events over the course of one summer.

When a book begins with the line “I’m going to tell you about a tragic and terrible event that marked my life,” it sets up some high expectations. Nesser balances a good sense of place with a feeling of impending doom, turning nostalgia on its head. Teenage narrator Erik, his friend Edmund, and Erik’s 22-year-old brother, Henry—who’s working on an “unexpected and eerie” novel—spend their summer near an idyllic lake in rural Sweden. The year is 1962, and Erik and Henry’s mother is slowly dying of cancer back in their hometown. Before their departure, in the waning days of the school year, they encountered new substitute teacher Ewa, who looks like the actress Kim Novak and is engaged to Berra, a prominent athlete with a violent streak. Not long after the boys arrive for their summer vacation by the lake, they discover that Henry and Ewa are having an affair. Erik’s warning of terrible things to come and the presence in the narrative of numerous Agatha Christie novels all act as blatant foreshadowing. When Berra turns up dead, that event dramatically shifts the mood of the book. There are a few idioms which, in Vogel’s translation, feel decidedly American in this very Swedish novel, including the phrase "It is what it is," which Erik ponders. As Nesser burrows further into this fictional world, though, as when Erik declares himself part of a clique known as “the anti-soccer crowd,” the novel’s idiosyncrasies become more charming.

While its pacing is uneven, Nesser’s novel gains in power as it raises difficult questions about memory and morality.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64286-019-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

SOOLEY

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball.

What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish moss–dripping milieus of the Deep South is anyone’s guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesn’t quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violence—Sooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of “the largest ethnic class in the country,” pitted against other ethnic groups—and mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its “tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people.” A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a “nonshooting guard.” Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grisham’s novel bounces between Sooley’s on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, “Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country,” though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end.

Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54768-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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