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RED PILL

“Kafkaesque” is an overused term, but it’s an apt one for this dark tale of fear and injustice.

A writer on retreat in Germany is unwittingly drawn into the world of alt-right ideologues.

Much like Kunzru’s excellent White Tears (2017), this novel features a lead character stumbling into confrontations about race and society he’s ill-prepared to handle. The unnamed narrator is a Brooklyn creative-writing teacher and essayist struggling to write a book on the self in literature. A break (both emotional and careerwise) seems to arrive when, in early 2016, he begins a three-month fellowship at the Deuter Center in Wannsee, Germany. But almost immediately the good vibes turn bad: A blowhard scholar explodes the writer’s thesis, everybody’s online activities are creepily scrutinized, and what’s with that staffer wearing a Pepe the Frog pin? (Adding to the queasy unease, it's hard to ignore that Wannsee hosted the conference where the Nazis finalized plans to implement the Final Solution.) Exasperated and demoralized, the narrator retreats into binge-watching a cop show whose leads are merciless with perps and who spew black-hearted monologues on humanity’s fate. In time, the narrator crosses paths with the show’s creator, Anton, a charismatic but smugly racist man. The increasingly paranoid narrator tries to get to the bottom of Anton’s ideology; meanwhile, the U.S. presidential election approaches. Plotwise, the novel is clunky, slow to establish the narrator’s character and awkwardly introducing Anton into the narrative; a lengthy section featuring a Deuter Center housecleaner’s experience being manipulated by the Stasi is razor-sharp in itself but effectively a sidebar to the main story. Yet as an allegory about how well-meaning liberals have been blindsided by pseudo-intellectual bigots with substantial platforms, it’s bleak but compelling. Our intellectual freedom, Kunzru writes, “is shrinking, its scope reduced by technologies of prediction and control, by social media’s sinister injunction to share.” This novel, in all its disorder, represents some worthy and spirited push back.

“Kafkaesque” is an overused term, but it’s an apt one for this dark tale of fear and injustice.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-49371-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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THE GOD OF THE WOODS

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Many years after her older brother, Bear, went missing, Barbara Van Laar vanishes from the same sleepaway camp he did, leading to dark, bitter truths about her wealthy family.

One morning in 1975 at Camp Emerson—an Adirondacks summer camp owned by her family—it's discovered that 13-year-old Barbara isn't in her bed. A problem case whose unhappily married parents disdain her goth appearance and "stormy" temperament, Barbara is secretly known by one bunkmate to have slipped out every night after bedtime. But no one has a clue where's she permanently disappeared to, firing speculation that she was taken by a local serial killer known as Slitter. As Jacob Sluiter, he was convicted of 11 murders in the 1960s and recently broke out of prison. He's the one, people say, who should have been prosecuted for Bear's abduction, not a gardener who was framed. Leave it to the young and unproven assistant investigator, Judy Luptack, to press forward in uncovering the truth, unswayed by her bullying father and male colleagues who question whether women are "cut out for this work." An unsavory group portrait of the Van Laars emerges in which the children's father cruelly abuses their submissive mother, who is so traumatized by the loss of Bear—and the possible role she played in it—that she has no love left for her daughter. Picking up on the themes of families in search of themselves she explored in Long Bright River (2020), Moore draws sympathy to characters who have been subjected to spousal, parental, psychological, and physical abuse. As rich in background detail and secondary mysteries as it is, this ever-expansive, intricate, emotionally engaging novel never seems overplotted. Every piece falls skillfully into place and every character, major and minor, leaves an imprint.

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Pub Date: July 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780593418918

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2024

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SANDWICH

A moving, hilarious reminder that parenthood, just like life, means constant change.

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During an annual beach vacation, a mother confronts her past and learns to move forward.

Her family’s annual trip to Cape Cod is always the highlight of Rocky’s year—even more so now that her children are grown and she cherishes what little time she gets with them. Rocky is deep in the throes of menopause, picking fights with her loving husband and occasionally throwing off her clothes during a hot flash, much to the chagrin of her family. She’s also dealing with her parents, who are crammed into the same small summer house (with one toilet that only occasionally spews sewage everywhere) and who are aging at an alarmingly rapid rate. Rocky’s life is full of change, from her body to her identity—she frequently flashes back to the vacations of years past, when her children were tiny. Although she’s grateful for the family she has, she mourns what she’s lost. Newman (author of the equally wonderful We All Want Impossible Things, 2022) imbues Rocky’s internal struggles with importance and gravity, all while showcasing her very funny observations about life and parenting. She examines motherhood with a raw honesty that few others manage—she remembers the hard parts, the depths of despair, panic, and anxiety that can happen with young children, and she also recounts the joy in a way that never feels saccharine. She has a gift for exploring the real, messy contradictions in human emotions. As Rocky puts it, “This may be the only reason we were put on this earth. To say to each other, I know how you feel.”

A moving, hilarious reminder that parenthood, just like life, means constant change.

Pub Date: June 18, 2024

ISBN: 9780063345164

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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