DeWitt continues to explore the limits of storytelling with these slyly charming tales.

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SOME TRICK

Short works from the author of Lightning Rods (2011) and The Last Samurai (2000).

“Many years ago a friend commented that we rarely see fiction that shows the way mathematicians think.” Few authors would take this observation as a challenge, but few authors are like DeWitt. One of the distinguishing features of DeWitt’s work is a sense of curiosity. She seems to find everything interesting, so she makes everything interesting. The story that springs from that friend’s offhand remark is “My Heart Belongs to Bertie,” the tale of a man who writes children’s books that explain complex mathematical principles. The story contains charts mapping various probabilities, and if that sounds tedious, it is not, because DeWitt has crafted an utterly sympathetic character who would most definitely use charts. “Famous Last Words” includes equations that will probably be inscrutable to most readers, but the very fact that the equations are there tells us so much about the two people who inhabit this odd love story. Literary theory is deftly deployed. There are amusing and illuminating footnotes. Many of these pieces depict the backside or underside of creative work. DeWitt explores the impact of contractual obligations on music, for example, as well as the inner workings of the publishing industry as seen from a variety of viewpoints. Money is shown to be more important than we tend to like to think it is when it comes to art. DeWitt’s wide-ranging intellect makes these stories, but it’s her sense of humor and profound humanity that make them work. She approaches her weirdos and screw-ups with keen-eyed honesty but also with sincere affection. And the first story, “Brutto,” has one of the most satisfying closing lines ever. This collection has many delights, but it’s worth picking up just for that.

DeWitt continues to explore the limits of storytelling with these slyly charming tales.

Pub Date: May 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2782-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed. This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel". It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define. Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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