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OUR LADY OF THE HIGHWAY

A raucously funny yet heartfelt and illuminating tale of holy orders at their most chaotic.

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Rogue nuns and a psychic novice reinvigorate a failing convent in this comic novel.

Hartley’s rollicking yarn centers on Our Lady of the Highway, a run-down convent in a grim, industrial area of Brooklyn where the sisters have spent 347 years praying nonstop in shifts for world peace. But with only three nuns left, the youngest being the 71-year-old Mother Superior, Sister Bernadette, their vigil will sputter out unless the parish priest can find new blood. Such materializes in the form of Sister Magdalena, who’s a fugitive thanks to righteous crimes, such as sinking a freighter full of weapons bound for a Venezuelan coup. She brings along Sisters Evelyn and Veronica, both with equally shady resumes. Taking over as Mother Superior, Magdalena scandalizes Bernadette by starting a microbrewery to cater to Brooklyn hipsters. Meanwhile, the sisters fend off the machinations of a tycoon who wants to turn the convent into a sewage treatment plant. Further stirring the pot is Lola, a former insurance claims adjuster with psycho-kinetic powers that result in stopped clocks, shattered glass, or collapsing fire escapes when she gets upset. She joins the convent thinking it’s a calm place where she can’t hurt anyone. With a marketing plan of offering intercessory prayers for customers who buy beer and having Lola do pin-up posters in an off-the-shoulder habit, the convent does a boffo business and signs up dozens of new nuns—until the police, the FBI, and the National Guard come for Magdalena. Hartley, a celebrated indie film director, writes in a confidently cinematic style, filling the novel with quirky, sharply drawn characters; multiple viewpoints and flashbacks; exquisitely carved, imagistic vignettes—“Confident, preoccupied, serious but smiling, Magdalena is uncomplicated, graceful and selfless even as she pauses to slip a handgun into her ankle boot”—and hilarious deadpan dialogue. (“Mother Superior, may I ask a question?” “Of course.” “Are you all wanted by the law?”) For all its farcical elements, the story is an inquisitive depiction of the cloistered life, exploring its seething tensions and energetic discipline and taking seriously its commitments. (“In reality,” Bernadette muses, “God doesn’t make himself known to you except through the miracles of endurance and selflessness.”) The result is an entertaining but thoughtful spoof.

A raucously funny yet heartfelt and illuminating tale of holy orders at their most chaotic.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-73792-743-3

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Elboro Press

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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