A novel about a remote indigenous town with an intriguing premise but uneven execution.

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SOLE PADDLE

A young Native American man prepares for a future outside his small community in Campbell’s debut novel.

In the town of Reflection Lake, John is intent on finishing 12th grade, but up to this point, he’s been taking correspondence high school classes. His teachers have told him that he should go to the school in the town of Hope Bay, but his grandfather, Extol Bear, has advised against it because of that school’s history of discrimination. Luckily, it turns out that Reflection Lake’s high school will have teachers this year, and there’s even talk of bringing in a portable science lab. Extol is wary, however, because he once sent John’s father to a residential school that was hostile to Native American culture: “We have heard pleasant words before. They can change overnight.” The school receives a government grant, which enables the students to put on a play. John co-writes and narrates it, which makes him feel even more connected to his community. But although he earns a living as a tourist guide, he’s toying with applying to a university far away. Suddenly, a massive fire encroaches on Reflection Lake, and John and others race to fight it; soon, the young man’s future hangs in the balance. Campbell’s concise novel touches on some cultural issues of lingering importance, including the former practice of forcibly sending young Native Americans to white-run boarding schools. The culture-eradicating practices of the past still weigh heavily on John’s decision-making process in the present day, and Campbell’s portrayal of how memories haunt Extol is powerful. The action scenes during the fire and along the river are also consistently exciting. However, the rest of the narrative doesn’t feel as well-developed; the overall plot isn’t especially strong, and there are a number of scenes that either feel unnecessary or too short.

A novel about a remote indigenous town with an intriguing premise but uneven execution.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5255-3167-5

Page Count: 162

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2019

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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