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THE STRANGE LIBRARY

At once beguiling and disquieting—in short, trademark Murakami—a fast read that sticks in the mind.

“I’m going to slice you up nice and fine and feed you to the centipedes.” Another off-kilter yarn from master storyteller Murakami: allegorical, shadowy and not at all nice.

Murakami (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, 2014, etc.) loves two things among many: Franz Kafka (think Kafka on the Shore) and secret places (think 1Q84). This latest, brief and terse, combines those two passions in the frightening vision of a hapless young man who, returning two books—How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd—to the library, is sent to Room 107, deep in a basement he didn’t know existed. Confronted by an apparently friendly but nevertheless no-nonsense old man, the youngster allows that he’s interested in “how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire.” And who wouldn’t be? Well, that’s enough to send our young fellow into a nightmare world featuring a blandly mysterious young woman, a sheep man, the ever present threat of danger and the nagging worry that his mom is going to be upset when he doesn’t show up for supper. Even so, our young man has the presence of mind to ask the right questions: How, given strapped municipal budgets and library cuts, could “our city library have such an enormous labyrinth in its basement?” And why is he being imprisoned—for the answer comes back positive to his question of the Sheep Man, “Is this by any chance a jail cell?” It would take a Terry Gilliam, or perhaps a Kurosawa, to film Murakami’s nightmare properly, and if the reader may well be puzzled over what the story, published in Japan in 2005, means at heart, then the prospect of the young man’s being freed only if he passes rigorous questioning over, yes, taxation in the Ottoman Empire will ignite the fear-of-a-long-ago-final-exam syndrome in all of us.

At once beguiling and disquieting—in short, trademark Murakami—a fast read that sticks in the mind.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-35430-1

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z(2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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